Handyman Scam
April 23, 2014 9:06 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way I can get my deposit back from a handyman who disappeared?

I’m a homeowner who needed some relatively minor repairs done, a one-day job. My normal handyman is recovering from an injury. After a couple weeks of trying to get referrals and setting up appointments for candidates who didn’t show up, I ended up hiring a handyman off of Craigslist. He did show up, I liked his ideas about how to handle the repair, and he gave me a reasonable bid. I agreed to hire him and gave him a deposit check for $150 for materials. This was about two or three weeks ago.

His wife (who handled his phone calls) pushed back the work start date several times for various reasons. Although she was at first proactive with her excuses, she eventually stopped calling me or answering my calls. I finally found someone else to do the repair.

So is there a way to get back my deposit? I paid by a check made out to to the handyman which he cashed at a checking cashing place. I have his name, phone number, a work order signed by him and me, and his drivers license number. I looked up his name online and found a possible address too (but unverified).

In theory, I could take him to small claims court, but I’ve done that in past in a different situation, and the small amount of money won’t be worth the aggravation. Still, it’s my money and I want it back another way if possible. I looked on Craigslist to see if he’s reposted his ad so I could at least warn people away from him, but it hasn’t shown up for a few weeks. Could I report a theft and send the police to his house? If I called from a different phone with a different ID, the wife might pick up, but what would I say? Any ideas about how to handle this, or do I need to give it up?
posted by Leontine to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The police will not take action over a small civil breach of contract like this.

I recommend the small claims method, just over the principle of the thing. He might even show up !

The check-cashing place is the giveaway. This wasn't some cunning way to hide his banking information from you; you already have his name and identifying info. His financial life is such a ruin that there's no way he has money to pay you back. Blood from a stone, as they say.

It's things like this that make me understand Angie's List.
posted by Kakkerlak at 10:44 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

IANAL, seems to me this is a civil, not criminal dispute, so calling police is not a good idea. I would register the domain hisfirstlastnamesuks.com and post the work order (blanking out your info) and your story. Use a robots.txt to prevent it from being indexed by search engines. When you call, try to get her to go to the site while you are on the phone. Inform her that the site stays up until you get your cash refund. (you probably could skip getting a domain and just use a free site/blog)
posted by Sophont at 10:49 PM on April 23, 2014

Send him a letter (certified) about going to small claims court. You do have an address right?
Ask them to mail your money back within 2 weeks of the date of the letter.

Then go to small claims if you want your money, the cost of the letter, and court costs.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:49 PM on April 23, 2014

No reason you can't threaten to both take it to small claims AND threaten to file a police report. The combination of those two things might actually get results. I defend more piddly charges than a $150 theft by deception as a public defender, so I know these things can get into the criminal system with a motivated cop and zealous young assistant DA.
posted by Happydaz at 10:52 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your jurisdiction has consumer protection laws, there's likely a body that will investigate. I know the folk in my province investigate scams like this regularly, as usually the people doing them are repeat offenders. At the very least, he'll be red-flagged if he ever applies for a business license.
posted by Kurichina at 7:22 AM on April 24, 2014

Best answer: Is there any way I can get my deposit back from a handyman who disappeared?

The really short answer: no.

The slightly longer answer: nothing that's less costly or just easier than writing off $150. If you took everything all the way to getting some kind of a judgement, the next barrier you will run into is that odds are he has nothing. He took your check to a check cashing place. That'll tell you something.

Angie's List has saved me much more than the annual fee for situations like this. I don't hire anyone for an odd job unless I see some favorable reviews, unless I know them (or someone who they did work for) personally.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:35 AM on April 24, 2014

I'd sue him in small claims court, then try to get on People's Court. At least you'll have an adventure and get your dough and court costs back.

It's been awhile since I've recommended that, kinda feels good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:22 AM on April 24, 2014

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