Couple feels scammed by contractor
Updated: Tuesday, January 21 2014, 11:43 AM EST
Rochester, N.Y. --- A local couple feels they were scammed by a local snow plow contractor who they paid $325 to this week. They say he never showed up to plow their two properties and he won’t return their calls to explain why or discuss a refund.
The plow contractor told 13WHAM News he’s had truck problems and phone problems. Of the many negative online reviews of his company he said, “anybody can just write something.” While he spoke to us on the phone he declined repeated requests from 13WHAM News to explain the situation on camera.
Ashworth & Berkley’s Story
Ryan Ashworth and Sarah Berkley signed a snow plow contract with Resurrection Lawn and Landscaping on Monday and provided 13WHAM News copies of that contract.
"The total contract was $325 and it basically was just snow plow services, snow removal that kind of thing,” said Ashworth who admits having a good feeling after having met the owner. "When I saw this guy, talked to him (he) seemed very responsive and on the up-and-up. Came out shook my hand and it seemed like it was going to be a good thing.”
The contract covered seasonal plow services for the couple’s Rochester rental property off East Avenue and their own home in East Rochester. After the snow this week the couple became suspicious when they say no plows arrived at either property.
“I was getting kind of suspicious so I asked Ryan what his name was because I wanted to google search him and see what comes up,” explained Berkley. “It took me about five seconds to find other people saying that his Craigslist ad was a scam and then I found a couple other websites with a ton of complaints about him.”
The couple made numerous attempts to contact the owner and never heard back. On Friday Ashworth even called him with a 13WHAM News camera rolling. The call was answered, Ashworth identified himself, and the caller hung up.
“You know I do,” Ashworth responded when asked if he thought other customers were experiencing the same thing he was. “And I just hope it doesn't happen to somebody else."
Resurrection Lawn and Landscaping
The company Ashworth and Berkley contracted with is Resurrection Lawn and Landscaping, and the firm has a rather comprehensive website.
"His website looks pretty legit but then when you start hearing all these complaints about him you can kind of see how it's probably a front,” said Berkley of her impressions of the website. “I mean the pictures are just so generic and he's got all different pictures of snow plow trucks and it's like really, how many trucks can you have?”
The Monroe County Clerk’s Office lists two Doing Business As (DBA’s) for this company. One issued in August 2008 lists a Kimberly Robinson as the owner. Another DBA issued in 2012 is marked as an “amended” version and it appears to assign the company’s name over to Brian Robinson.
Ashworth said his dealings, including the signing of the contract, were with a man who identified himself as Brian Robinson. The voicemail greeting for the phone number provided to Ashworth, and associated with this company’s website, features a man identifying himself as Brian Robinson of “Resurrection Enterprises.”
On the company’s website, Ashworth also identified a photograph of a man raking leaves and said that is the person he met, shook hands with, and was introduced to him as Brian Robinson.
The BBB and Other Complaints
The Better Business Bureau’s file on Resurrection Lawn and Landscaping includes nine complaints for service, none of which were addressed. The BBB gives the company an “F” rating and the detailed report also lists customer accounts and complaints.
While some involve spring or summertime lawn and landscaping projects, others involve snow plow contracts that were not fulfilled.
13WHAM News spoke at length to two of those customers who described their stories in great detail. In both cases, the customers claimed to have signed plow contracts for the previous winter, which were paid in full, but the service was never performed. In both cases the customers detailed how they paid Brian Robinson (one by check, one by cash) and how attempts to get refunds were unsuccessful.
They told 13WHAM News that the initial explanation Robinson gave them for not being able to provide service was mechanical breakdowns or problems with his truck.
Other online consumer websites and message boards, including a recent “Scam Alert” post on Craigslist, detail similar stories about Resurrection Lawn and Landscape and some identify Robinson by name.
13WHAM Talks to Robinson
After a few attempts to call Robinson, some of which ended with someone answering and then hanging up, 13WHAM News was able to speak with Robinson on the phone Friday afternoon.
He was polite and forthcoming with his answers at first and when we informed him that customers were contacting us about his plow service, he explained that he had a truck breakdown. He mentioned the shop where it was being repaired but also told 13WHAM News that he had other trucks that were operational.
When asked why customers were having trouble getting in touch with him, Robinson said he was also having phone problems and explained that was probably why our calls to him were not able to be answered initially.
13WHAM News also mentioned the online reviews of his business and the “F” rating given to him by the BBB. He explained that those complaints were “not always true” and that, “anybody can just write something.”
He said he had written the BBB back in response to some of those complaints but a BBB spokeswoman tells 13WHAM News that an initial search of their records do not reveal any such response.
Robinson said the online complaints don’t “prove the customer is right and I was wrong” and that people often assume “the customer is always right and…the contractor is always wrong.”
“This is what I do every day,” Robinson said at one point when asked about his business. “I’ve got a million references…I can't even sleep at night because this happened to me.”
Robinson initially agreed to explain this to 13WHAM News in person but when informed there would be a camera present he asked for time to think about it first. An initial call back to 13WHAM News inquired about the questions he would be asked on-camera and ended with him saying he needed to think about it more.
Numerous attempts to contact Robinson Friday afternoon by phone were not successful but he responded to a text message asking if he would go on camera.
“I’m not interested in doing that (sic) I think that wouldn’t make things any better” was the response from Robinson’s phone. He later politely asked that 13WHAM News not put him or his company’s name on the news or use his phone number anymore.
Tips from the BBB about Snow Plow Contract
Below is advice from the Better Business Bureau for customers entering into snow plow contracts.
Look for Experience: Each home or business is different and experience can matter. Make certain experience applies to everyone on the snow removal team and not just the business owner. Prices vary widely based on the amount of work, which takes into account the layout of the property, the size of the area requiring clearance, and whether you request removal of snow from other areas such as sidewalks or walkways.
Ask how the contractor schedules jobs. Some contractors plow as a part-time job, and this may affect their availability to plow your driveway when needed.
Get More than One Estimate: There can be a lot of variables that go into consideration with snow removal and BBB recommends you find at least three estimates before you hire. Make sure you know what you’ll be paying upfront to avoid surprises. Keep in mind the lowest price is not always the best indicator for the best service.
Ask about Insurance: Who’s responsible should your home or grounds suffer damage during the winter season? Find out what type of coverage your contractor provides as well as your homeowners insurance. Does your local municipality require the contractor to have a permit or license? Make some calls to find out and then check to make sure your contractor has one.
Review your Contract: Don’t settle for a phone conversation agreement; the contractor should provide a written contract. A company representative should come out to examine your property and make notes about services requested and potential obstacles. Find out how you can terminate the agreement if necessary. Get all of these details in writing and always read before you sign. Know all the terms and conditions of the contract. Understand cancellation fees and any extra charges that may apply.
Split Your Payments: Find out how you’re expected to pay for the services and avoid using cash. Most snow plow contracts take two forms: pay per plowing or pay per season. If you choose a pay per season contract in a light snow season, the contractor is not obligated to refund any money. If you’re expected to pay all fees upfront – consider it a red flag. Most contractors will split your fee into two or three payments – one at the beginning, middle and end of the season.
Get Contact Information: Make sure you know how to contact the company in the case of a snow emergency and know their policies about who to reach, standard contact phone numbers and any special number for urgent needs.
Beware of Scams: Remember even if a business appears to be reliable, it does not mean they are. When a company is reluctant to answer questions, won’t supply proper information or unwilling to offer references – there could be cause for concern. Your money might be spent wisely with another business.
Check with Better Business Bureau: BBB provides background information, complaint history and resolution to complaints in our Business Reviews. Check out snow removal services at bbb.org and if you can’t find a Business Review, ask the BBB to start one.