Independent Contractor's Service Scam

Please note the original publication of this article was in March 2011.I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I got scammed. I’m admitting it, and writing this, to hopefully prevent others from making the same mistake.

I don’t generally listen to anyone who comes to my home selling anything. I typically don’t even let them get started on their speech. I stop them before they start and tell them I am not interested and to please leave.

Yesterday afternoon, I took the kids outside after lunch. I had my camera out and was taking some pictures of the garden and the kids when this young man came through my gate. He seemed nice enough but I started to give my usual statement of being not interested. He was very persistent. He showed me what appeared to be legitimate ID, including a laminated card that was supposedly from the company sponsoring his…campaign, I guess? He said his name was Peter Trees, and he was with a company called Independent Contractor’s Service. (Their address is P.O. Box 480309, Delray Beach, FL 33448. Their phone number is 561-749-2060, and their email address is info@inconserve.com.)

He said that he was selling magazines to earn points. Once he earned enough points, he would get a savings bond that would allow him to open his own business. He intended to open a chicken restaurant. I felt uneasy, but felt for him and didn’t want to be heartless, so I agreed to buy two magazines.

I got my first hint (that I didn’t listen to) that maybe something wasn’t quite right when he asked me if my dog (an American Pit Bull, kept in a kennel for a very good reason) was nice. I told him that no, he’s not. He wanted to know (after seeing my Pit climb up on top of his dog house) if he could get out. I told him that I didn’t know, he’s never tried, but that I would bet that if he tried to hurt me, that yes my very protective dog would find a way to get out. I didn’t bother to mention the fact that both of my children are taught to let the dog out of his kennel if anyone ever attacks me.

The next clue (that again, I didn’t listen to) was when he was telling me my payment options, which were to pay half now and send off the remaining balance to the address on his forms, or to pay the full amount now and he would write “paid in full” on the forms. I told him I was going to pay half. Although he showed no visible signs of anger and said nothing to indicate his anger, I got the distinct vibe that he wasn’t happy with my answer.

The third sign was when I handed over my check. Dan and I share a joint bank account, and the guy assumed that we are married. Ordinarily, I would correct someone because I don’t want to lie about our relationship. I not only felt that I should not correct him, but that in fact I should emphasize this “marriage.” When he asked me how long we’d been married, I told him almost 2 years. I then implied that Dan would be home soon, and failed to mention that he’s an over the road truck driver in another state at the moment.

After the young man left, I still felt off about the whole thing, so I decided to look them up online. When I did, I found a website that has 21 reports on this company, from all over the country.

I immediately contacted my bank and stopped payment on my check. Of course, that does nothing to make me feel less stupid for falling for the scam. But what does help me to feel a bit better is that I can provide you with some tips to avoid getting scammed, and some things you can do if you do happen to fall for a scam.

To avoid being scammed:

  • Do not purchase anything from someone who approaches your door uninvited, without checking them out thoroughly first. Ask for their ID, ask for some form of company ID, and use the resource at your fingertips to check them out: go online. Leave them standing on your front porch and get on your computer and look their company up. If they are legitimate, and truly want to make the sale, they will wait. This is probably the biggest thing you can do, as it is quick and very effective to ensure that they are legitimate.
  • Look over any and all forms they give you carefully. Look for a company name, address and phone number, at the very least. Most companies now have websites and email addresses as well, so look for these too. If you don’t have internet access at home, use this form to attempt to call the business. If you call during business hours and get a recording with no option to leave a voice mail, no listing of business hours or anything else useful, be suspicious. If they are a local business, look them up in the phone book. If they are from out of town, be suspicious – while there may be a legitimate reason for them to be so far afield trying to make sales, it could also be a sign that they want their victims to be as far from their office as possible to potentially avoid dealing with them when the victim discovers what has happened.
  • Look the business up with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org). You can look up any business or charity, including website addresses. If it is a website and they have the BBB seal on their site, you can click that seal, and if it is legitimate, it will take you to the BBB website and a page that states that it is legitimate. For any business or charity, the BBB report will indicate how many reports the business/charity has had against them, and how they have been (or not been) resolved, as well as general terms of what the dispute was. If there are numerous reports, do not give them money. If there are only a few reports, but they are not satisfactorily resolved or are a bigger deal, do not give them money.
  • If they are overly aggressive, show signs of anger or frustration at your refusal to purchase or offer to give them less than they want, back out and refuse to purchase or give them money. Anyone legitimately selling a product or collecting for a charity will not show anger or frustration, they will express gratitude for whatever you are willing to do. They may try to ask for more, but they will not make you feel uncomfortable.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, thank them for their time and tell them you are not interested. Trust your gut in something like this. If you feel like something isn’t right, trust that feeling and do not give them money.
  • Be cautious in what personal information you offer both before making a deal and after. You should never have to give your social security number at all. If they ask for information that seems completely unrelated to the situation (examples: your employer, your salary, how much you paid for your home, items that you may or may not have (asking if you have a TV, stereo, how many computers), when you work, if you travel, etc.), take that as a warning that they are not simply looking to sell you something or collect for their favorite charity. Also be suspicious if they are very vocal about not wanting anything you have, not doing anything wrong, not a con/rip off/scam. Protesting too much and completely unprovoked could be the sign of a guilty conscience or a mind that thinks they can convince you by saying the words.
  • If they do not have any paperwork, business cards, flyers, brochures, etc to show you regarding their business, product, or charity, it is very likely they are not legitimate. Anyone truly trying to sell something or collect for a charity usually has something that explains the product, business, or charity and that shows they are actually associated with it. If they do not have this, question why.

If you have been caught by a scam:

  • If you wrote them a check and it hasn’t yet been processed by your bank, contact your bank and have them put a stop payment on that check. There will be a fee associated with this, and depending on how much the check was for, it may actually cost you more out of pocket.
  • Whether you’re able to stop payment on the check or not, keep a close eye on your bank account over the next few weeks or months. If you see any charges that are unexplainable, after checking with any joint account holders to ensure that they didn’t make them, contact your bank and dispute them. Let the bank know about the scam you fell victim to, and give them any and all information you have so they can investigate and see if the charges and the scam are related.
  • Contact your local police or sheriff’s department. They can help you file a report. This report can help you in disputing charges to your bank account, as well as help them possibly locate the people responsible for the scam and put a stop to it.
  • Be very aware of who is coming and going in your neighborhood and make sure your house is locked up tightly. Some scams are not about the money they get from you, but about allowing the criminal to check out your home and decide if it’s suitable for burglarizing later (this could especially be the case if they have no paperwork, business cards, flyers, etc. to show you regarding their so called product or charity.)

I attempted to call Independent Contractor’s Service in Delray Beach this morning. I got a recording that informed me that all requests must be in writing, and that personnel could call an 800 number provided by the pleasant female voice. It did not seem to allow for me to leave a voice mail, nor did it give any business hours, location, or any other useful information. I sent them an email, as well, explaining what I have found and giving them a chance to explain their side for this article. At the original time of publishing this article, I have not yet received a response from them. I will update this article if I receive one.

Independent Contractor’s Service Scam (Part 2)

Please note that this article was originally published in March 2011. There were photos with the original article, which will be posted when I can get them up. Sorry about that!I finally received a response to my e-mail to Independent Contractor’s Service on 3/23/2011, after forwarding my e-mail to them to ask a second time if they’d like to respond. I’ve been a bit tied up with other things, but I wanted to share not only their e-mail, but my response to it.

First, as you can see by looking at the screenshot of the e-mail, the person who responded does not state in what capacity she works for the company, has poor writing skills, and isn’t very observant. She states that she keeps her identity to herself so as not to be misquoted; yet, her name, Amy Jones, is listed next to her e-mail address. An e-mail address, you will notice, that is different from the one listed on the order forms left with me.

Figuring out where to begin addressing her statements has been a challenge. We’ll start with her assumption that I never called the office. As shown below, this a copy of my cell phone bill, with other phone calls and my phone number blacked out to protect the privacy of everyone else. The number that is left shown, is the same number found on the order form. When I called that number, I got a recording that would not allow me to leave a message, and only directed personnel to call another number. Just to ensure that I hadn’t called before business hours, I called them again today. I got the same message. This time, I wrote down the number for personnel to call, and called it. I got their corporate office. Their corporate office is completely uninformed and staffed by only one person, it would seem. I asked to speak to several different people, including a sales manager, an HR manager, president of the company, and owner of the company, and all requests were met with “How can I help?” This woman refused to give her name or any helpful information at all about the company.

Back to the e-mail response. Ms. Jones stated that I had a federally mandated right to cancel my order. This is correct. This right is the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Cooling-Off Rule. This states that if you buy an item in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business, you have 3 days to cancel purchases of $25 or more. You have until midnight of the 3rd business day after the sale to make this cancellation. The cancellation must be made in writing, and if mailed, postmarked by midnight of the 3rd day.

However, the salesperson has some obligations in this Cooling-Off Rule. First, the salesperson must tell you of your right to cancel at the time of sale. The salesperson also must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send) and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or receipt must be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel.

Mr. Trees, a representative of Independent Contractor’s Service and therefore presumably trained by them in how to make the sale and ensure that everything is done properly, made absolutely no mention of my right to cancel. Mr. Trees left me with the yellow and pink copies of the order form, neither of which contain any cancellation information anywhere on them. However, the white office copy that he took with him, did have a blurb on the back about the right to cancel.

The woman I spoke with at the corporate office stated, when informed of all this, that I must have gotten a form that was printed wrong. When I stated that I had 2 forms, and that I’d seen others in his hand that looked the same, she had no response.

Ms. Jones also claims that the website I mentioned is “some person in his grandmas basement that makes a living serving up trash talking to get hits and clicks [sic]?” Let’s look at this for a moment. First, the site (www.ripoffreport.com) does not charge to look up companies, nor does it charge to list your experience. Therefore, the only income the person running it might get is from ads on the site, which is likely not going to generate much money. Given that the people are on there to either list a bad experience in purchasing or to ensure they aren’t going to get ripped off, they’re not likely to be willing to click on ads.

But, for the sake of argument, I’ll play devil’s advocate here and assume that Ms. Jones is correct and that Ripoff Report is some person looking to make a quick buck. In that case, I’d direct both Ms. Jones and anyone reading this article to www.trustlink.org, a website for a BBB program that allows customers to write reviews of various companies. The Better Business Bureau is not a website run in someone’s basement. Everyone knows and trusts the BBB. The BBB has given Independent Contractor’s Service a D- on a scale of A to F. How could Ms. Jones explain this? I suppose she could argue that since they didn’t get an F, there must be companies out there that are worse, which would be true. These are just some of the websites I found that have numerous complaints from people all over the country who have fallen for Independent Contractor’s Service’s scam.

Ms. Jones is bothered that my e-mail didn’t have an order number. The forms do not have anything clearly labeled as an order number. She also mentions that I didn’t include the town I live in. Yet, she was able to inform me of my right to cancel, a right that I only have if my order is $25 or more. Given that ordering only 1 magazine would have been less that than $25 threshold, one has to wonder how she could inform me of my right to cancel if she had no way of finding my order. If she needed my order number or town to assist me, how did she know that my order met the requirement for the Cooling-Off Rule to apply?

Ms. Jones also says that a Peter was accosted by an off duty police officer, beaten up and jailed. Ms. Jones had the nerve to say that perhaps I was the person who called the police on him. Ms. Jones needs to take a moment to look up defamation and be very grateful that those who know me know that I would never do something like that. If that were not the case, and others heard about Ms. Jones completely unfounded accusation, Ms. Jones and Independent Contractor’s Service would be receiving the paperwork for the libel lawsuit I would have been filing. Ms. Jones would do well to remember that accusing others of assault without any proof does not help her company’s appearance in this at all. I also would challenge Ms. Jones to prove that I even have the ability to arrange for this horrible thing to have happened. I do not personally know any police officers. My closest contact with police is a few speeding tickets when I was a teen and calling the police when a former neighbor was beating up his girlfriend. I do feel great sympathy for Mr. Trees if he was, in fact, attacked and would hope that the person who attacked him would be appropriately punished, but given everything else I have found about this company, I’m afraid I must be a bit skeptical of this attack.

Ms. Jones also points out that in a scam such as this, that the person perpetrating it would be risking federal and postal felony charges. She then claims that it is “Utterly ridiculous not to mention the stupidest criminal would not risk or work that hard for peanuts…[sic]” Today, we have shows such as “World’s Dumbest” which feature 20 of the stupidest criminal acts caught on camera, shows which have many episodes, all of which contain 20 different acts. You can turn on any news program, go to any news oriented website, and turn on the radio to hear stories of criminals who’ve done something stupid. There are stories of criminals who break into a home and sign into MySpace or Facebook, who steal coats and money and use the homeowner’s camera to take pictures of themselves with the stolen items and then post the photos online. There are criminals who break in and take a shower or a nap. These are only some of the stories I’ve seen in recent months. Given that level of stupidity, and the fact that lack of intelligence generally goes hand in hand with crime, is it really that ridiculous to think that someone would run a scam like this? Frankly, this scam would seem, to me, to be less risky than some of the other crimes people commit.

The last thing I’m going to address is Ms. Jones’s statement that I should feel badly that I may have destroyed a person’s ambition. With what I have seen regarding this company, I can only think two things: (1) this person’s only ambition was to defraud people, and I will not feel guilty about ruining an ambition like that, or (2) this person (and others working for this company) have been misled and are mistakenly believing they are doing something good. In that case, Ms. Jones and her employer and coworkers should feel guilt at lying to young, innocent people.

I have 2 sons. Both are very bright, determined, creative boys who will do great things with their lives, if I do my job and raise them right. I think I will raise them to always do the right thing. Their ambition is what I worry about. Their integrity and their ability to follow their dreams are what I encourage and support. Making sure that they do not go to work for a company like Independent Contractor’s Service is a priority for me. A stranger who shows up in my yard, uninvited and who pressures me enough to make me uncomfortable does not get the same concern as my sons.

I can only hope that the people involved in this company develop a conscience and stop scamming people. I’m sure, after this long, it won’t happen. But I still hope.

“Independent Contractor’s Service Scam”
© 2011 by Wendy Miller
All rights reserved. For reprint information, contact wendy@wendy-miller.com