In Part I, I wrote about my experiences working with an app developer and how what seemed like a match made in heaven, turned out to be something altogether different. If you haven’t read Part I of How I Got Scammed, go here: https://challengeyourvision.com/2019/09/how-i-got-scammed
Trust, but verifyRussian Proverb
I paused the story when I had decided to confront the developer at his office. That was a tough decision, because I just didn’t want to believe something was wrong, but I had to get to the bottom of it – I had to know. So, I sent a text to the head developer letting him know that I was coming to see them and wanted to see how my money was being spent. Again, there was no reply.
I got their physical address off of their website and my husband and I headed to San Jose. When we got to the address, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I was impressed by the size of the office building. I felt reassured that there was a bank on the first floor. When I went to look at the directory to find out what floor their office was on, there was no listing for their business. I thought there must have been some mistake, but no, they didn’t have an office at that address.
So I went to the other address that was provided on the business contract that I had signed. That sinking feeling got worse when I saw that it was one of those Mail Box stores. The address turned out to be a P.O. Box! I turned to my husband and said, “I think they stole my money” only to be followed by, “… but they had put so much work into the app, already. There must be some mistake…Something must of happened. ” It was still hard for me to believe that they had cheated me.
So my next step was to contact the referral service that put us together in the first place. I was stunned to discover that the company didn’t vet the businesses that use their service, and in fact, their business model was based on getting as many “businesses” to sign up for their services as possible. I had assumed this referral service verified the companies that use their service, in detail, and by their email and contact information, I thought that they were local, too. In fact, this company was based in the UK.
I spent the rest of the day trying to find any information I could on the people I worked with, the company, and the third-party company that guaranteed me an app and that certified the work they were doing for me – that company’s website had disappeared! I kept coming up with dead-end after dead-end. Even their Linked-In profiles didn’t have their personal pictures and the phone numbers turned out to be cell phones; in fact, I couldn’t find a physical address for them at all.
By now, I decided I needed to get some professional help and I contacted the Santa Clara County Consumer Fraud Department. They advised me to immediately cancel my credit card and wait till they had done some research. Although, this wasn’t their particular area of expertise, they could do some checking for me and would advise me as to who I would need to contact next.
What they found was that the company that guaranteed the app developer’s work, and to whom I provided a lot of personal information, was actuallly owned by the app developer and was now defunct! They recommended that I contact my credit card company to file a complaint and that is what I did.
To get to this point took about two months. Frankly, I felt stupid when I started recounting everything that happened to the lady at the fraud department. I was grateful that I had the good sense to document everything, including the texts and emails they sent me, so my timeline was incredibly accurate. No matter how accurate my timeline was, I was devastated to learn what they did. I trusted them, because I believed they were good people and experts in their field. But they were able to trick me, I believe, because I didn’t want to or know how to verify their bonafides.
My desire to have an app created was so great that, I kept ignoring the warning signs, because I didn’t want to believe the truth even when it was staring me right in the face.
Early that Monday morning, I contacted the merchant and filed my complaint. The gentleman explained that the company had 60 days to respond or the credit that they issued to my account would become permanent. (Those sixty days seemed like an eternity to me.)
A few days later, the developer reached out to me via text full of apologies and explanations about employee turnover and a disruption in the company, but now all was well. According to him, they had made significant progress on my app and couldn’t wait to show it to me – all I had to do was to withdraw the complaint.
I have to say, I wanted to withdraw the complaint, not because of their apology, although that mattered; and not because they said they made significant progress on the app, which excited me. I wanted to withdraw the complaint, because I wanted my dream and I wanted them to do the right thing in the end.
What prevented me from giving them another chance was reading over the timeline of what happened and remembering how I felt when I found out they tricked me into believing a third-party company verified and guaranteed their work and I had experienced months and months of fear, disappointment and heartache that didn’t have to happen and I wasn’t going to allow it to happen again.
So I texted back and informed him that I wanted a refund of monies owed me for nonperformance and I also informed him that I had documented everything including screenshots of that third-party company with their five star reviews. The developer apologized and agreed to the refund.
Time lost was another thirty days.
I finally got my money back when the complaint expired at the end of the sixty day grace period. What would have happened had I given them another chance? Would have I lost even more money? I just couldn’t put myself in that position again.
In my research, I had learned that the best scams are those conducted over time with incremental influxes of cash to resolve a so-called challenge that has occurred in the project.
All in all, I lost 120 days, nights of sleep, and experienced a lot of fear, anxiety, disappointment and sadness. However, I believe that all my experiences happen for me and for a reason, so I had to ask these two questions: What did I need to learn from this experience and how do I share those lessons with others so they can prevent having the same experiences?
Below I have compiled a list of my 7 key takeaways from this experience that I believe would have kept me safe from scammers and may help you, too.
Top 7 Ways to Prevent Fraud
- Verify that any referral service has properly vetted the companies that they recommend to you.
- DO NOT sign a contract and give money at the first meeting.
- Verify that the company is telling you the truth by verifying their work address, business filings, ownership, their business affiliations, and the testimonials of the people who claim they received good service from them, including their Linked-In profiles.
- Verify all phone numbers and addresses that you have been provided.
- Use only credit cards to purchase services, so that, you have an easier time recouping your money if something goes wrong.
- Document everything. When you do, it makes it easy to support your interpretation of events and it makes it easier for the professionals to help you.
- Speed of Decision. I believe I had the best outcome, because I didn’t hesitate to act when I finally recognized the truth.
Had I employed all of the above recommendations, I may have prevented months of fear, anxiety, disappointment and worry. So the next time you want to get a dream project off the ground, make sure you “Trust but verify!”
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