October 1, 2004
Before You Sign On The Dotted Line â€¦
When attorney Michelle Phillips moved from Columbia, Maryland, to Dallas last November, she didn’t think that having her car shipped across the country would be her biggest headache.
She found a company that claimed it had a large fleet of trucks and that it would get her car to its destination within five to seven days. Three weeks later, she still did not have her car.
After several back-and-forth conversations with the vendor, “I demanded to know where my car was at that point because I was ready to go pick it up wherever it was,” she says. “They didn’t know where the car was. So I said, ‘If no one knows where the car is, that means the car’s stolen.'” All told, the receptionist threatened her with harassment and said if she continued to call, the car would simply be dropped off anywhere. Phillips’ car was finally delivered after three and a half weeks, though not in the shape she had left it.
“The windshield was cracked completely across the car. I contacted [the company], they said they don’t cover windshields despite the fact that the contract stated that they would cover up to $100,000 in damage. Once again, I was cursed out and hung up on.”
Phillips could have avoided this mess had she performed a background check before hiring the company. Aside from checking with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and your state attorney general’s office, here are some ways to use the Internet to check up on a company before you sign on the dotted line:
Look it up using an online directory. Check sites like www.superpages.com and www.infospace.com to see if the company is listed. Also, be aware that these search sites may have the company listed under various names. For example, Earl G. Graves Publishing Inc., the parent company of this magazine, also appears as Earl Graves Inc. and BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine.
Try search engines. More reputable companies may have articles, legal complaints, and activities accessible through sites like www.dogpile.com and www.askjeeves.com. Of course, check out the company’s Website to see if there is a contact name and location as well as a phone number for more questions. If the Website is not well maintained, it may be a sign of the company’s budgetary constraints.
Go to consumer Websites. Online gripe sites such as www.baddealings.com and www.complaintbook.com allow consumers to share bad experiences with companies so other consumers will know to avoid them. “Sites that offer consumers a forum to tell other consumers about their experiences, good or bad, with a company are a good thing,” says Carol McKay, spokesperson for the National Consumers League (www.natlconsumersleague.org).
Whatever information you find over the Net, take it with a grain of salt. “If you’re not 100% confident about whom it is that you’re getting your information from, then you can’t be confident about the information that they’re giving you,” says McKay.
Phillips compiled a list of about 30 people who had been burned by the same auto transport company and filed a complaint. The