Scams continue to haunt the contracting industryCanadian Contractor
What roles do on-line ad services and referral web sites play in protecting consumer?
Everyone’s a loser when a contractor goes bad; the homeowner of course is terribly impacted, but the industry loses as well. All the while, government agencies and consumer awareness writers continually tell the public to do their research before signing on with a contractor. Combine various levels of government, law enforcement and the courts, and you have a toxic mix of bad publicity that makes life difficult for every hard-working professional.
Like a bad smell that won’t go away
Two recent cases in Ontario have resulted in recent media attention. One is the oft-told story of a contractor who not only took deposit money and failed to do the work, but later changed operating names several times after being charged with fraud and forgery in order to continue his scamming activities!
Evengi Ostrovski of Vaughan Ontario was charged in late June by police with forgery, fraud under $5,000, and more. However, Ostrovski was known to authorities for some time before. The Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services told Canadian Contractor they had received complaints about Ostrovski back in 2015, and twice in 2016 when he was operating under the name of ‘Whitengale Renovation’, and ‘Optimal Renovation’. The Ministry referred the matter to the police after reviewing the complaints.
Numerous complaints made, several agencies involved
However, Ostrovski was not done. Advertising on Kijijii under names that included ‘The Handymen Repairs’, and ‘Maintenance from A-Z’, he continued to bilk homeowners of deposits and then disappear. Despite many complaints from the public and notification from the Ontario ministry, police were initially reluctant to pursue Ostrovski, considering it a ‘civil matter’. Now, however, police are asking other victims to come forward through Crime Stoppers.
Money laundering and scamming on a major scale
Ostrovski is small potatoes, however, compared to the money laundering and fraud charges brought against a Toronto couple fronting as a renovation company. Jonathan Rowe and Tracey Graves are alleged to have laundered over $1.8 million, acquired through criminal activity, through a firm called Jett Group. In addition to the money laundering charges made by the Canada Revenue Agency, the couple also left a trail of homeowners who paid deposits for work never undertaken, and ripped off sub trades. Over fifteen charges in total have been laid.
What roles do advertising sites and on-line referral services play?
Consumers have no idea if contractors they find on Kijijji for example are legitimate or not, since there is no screening process. And although most scam artists like Ostorvski are good at disappearing without a trace and then advertising again under a new name, Rowe and Graves still have their listing for Jett Group posted on TrustedPros. Canadian Contractor wanted to learn more about TrustedPros’ policy regarding contractor scammers. Nicole Silver of TrustedPros explained that “information about a given company is a matter of public record and public concern. We don’t remove company information from the site for this reason.”
Therefore, TrustedPros’ continued listed of the Jett Group could in fact be considered a public service, much like consumer warning sites operated by various provinces. Since their TrustedPros reviews are terrible, it will hopefully act as a warning to consumers. One sub-contractor also commented on his negative experiences saying, “I worked for Jonathon Rowe for a year or so, and could not believe the work he was doing and how he manipulates people. Including me….. I was ripped off over $5000. I can go on about this guy and his shady deals…but in the end, the conclusion is the same….STAY AWAY!!”
TrustedPros’ position of not playing judge, jury, and executioner leaves matters instead to the courts. “TrustedPros takes no position with respect to any dispute between users and contractors,” said Silver. However, Silver adds, “If a company or the principles of the company are convicted of crimes and their charges become public, like on the Ontario’s Consumer Beware List, we will post notice of their charges under the TrustScore section of their profile and reduce their TrustScore rating.”
Stay calm and do the right thing
What can the renovation industry do about an industry reputation tarnished by a small handful of crooks? Not much, except continue to vigilantly work in the most professional manner possible. Despite the high percentage of consumer complaints involving home repair and renovation, the vast majority contractors are skilled, honest and reliable. Let’s keep it that way.
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