Here at TrustDALE, we’ve seen our fair share of scams. But there is one scam we just see over and over. One of the most common scams that TrustDALE deals with is businesses that offer a service, take money up front, and then never deliver. We always advise against ever giving a business money up front without anything to show for it. Most legitimate companies will perform some or all of the work before they expect payment. But here’s the story of someone who trusted a business and uncovered a scheme.
Taking Down a Tree
Diedre Stevens had a simple problem. She had two trees in her backyard that needed to be removed. So she hired Don’s Tree Experts to do the job. The woman who came to her home was Angela Hodges, who happens to be the owner of the company. Angela quoted her a price of $1,500 to remove the trees, and she took the money up front. But no one from Don’t Tree Experts ever came to take down the trees.
Diedre called Don’s Tree Experts and tried to find out when they would come to take down her trees. Each time she called, she just got more excuses. So Diedre turned to the internet to investigate just what was going on.
Uncovering the Roots
What Diedre found was alarming. Don’s Tree Experts had an F rating with the Better Business Bureau. Even more shocking were the 29 other complaints from people like Diedre. In each case, Don’s Tree Experts had promised to do work, taken money up front, and failed to deliver. In fact, Don’s Tree Experts had given these customers the same excuses they were giving Diedre.
Diedre had already handed over $1,500, and it seemed unlikely she would be receiving the services she paid for. But she was ready to fight to get her money back. And that’s when she called TrustDALE.
Taking Down a Crook
This crooked scam had to be taken down. So we decided to set up a sting to catch Don’s Tree Experts in the act of perpetrating their scam, and to see if we could get them to talk to us. Two of our producers set up an appointment with Angela Hodges, the owner of Don’t Tree Experts, to get a quote for a tree removal. But when Angela showed up, Dale was there to speak with her.
Angela Hodges didn’t want to talk to TrustDALE, going so far as to hide her face from our cameras. And it didn’t take long for us to find out why. When we checked court records, we found that one customer had already won a settlement from Don’s Tree Experts, and fourteen more were actively suing Ms. Hodges and her tree service.
Ms. Hodge’s lawyer sent us a letter claiming that the delays were unintentional. The letter claimed that the delays were due to heavy rains that had forced Don’s Tree Service to reschedule many jobs. But we’re not sure we buy it. Why would Don’s Tree Experts continue to solicit work if they were already dealing with a massive backlog? Our investigation also found out that Don’s Tree Experts isn’t even insured to cut down trees. That’s an indication that they may never even have intended to cut down any trees.
While we hope the court cases will eventually compel Don’t Tree Experts to return the stolen cash, we wanted to know why the police had not become involved. It turns out that this scam was well within the ripoff zone, where scammers can rely on not drawing the attention of law enforcement. Each of Angela’s ripoffs was less than $50,000. The police consider those lower amounts to be business disputes, not criminal theft. That leaves scammers to keep scamming even as they are undergoing litigation.
Despite the low dollar amounts, TrustDALE prepared a report and brought it to the attention of the Dekalb County District Attorney. The District Attorney asked the police to investigate. Dekalb Police are now asking anyone who has had a similar issue with Don’t Tree Experts to contact their nearest precinct to make a report. You can also contact us here at TrustDALE, and we’ll help connect you to the right law enforcement.