I signed my Houston Home Inspection business up for an Angie’s List business listing back in 2006. To me, it was one of those things that you do when you operate a business. You know, get listed on as many on-line directories as you can, to increase your web presence. Admittedly, since that time, I haven’t paid much attention to that listing and have gone about my business being a Houston home inspector, with few complaints since 2003.
Since that time, Angie’s list has become more and more visible in advertising and since I’ve been revamping my old web site I thought I better look at my old listing under Houston Home inspectors and perhaps update it. Now try to imagine as a business owner what your surprise might be to find a review like this about your company:
Review Date: August 07, 2007
BELLAIRE, TX 77401
* More Weight is given to a review where work has been completed.
Description Of Work:
We hired him to inspect a house that was built in 2004, that we had made an offer on and now currently own.
I specifically asked him if he had experience with multi-million dollar homes and he assured me he did. It has been a nightmare ever since we've moved in. Toilet handles are broken, shower handles don't work and there is a leak coming from the slab in the garage! We've been here three weeks and I'm still finding things an inspector should have found.
Additional Questions Answered when completing this review
How much did the final cost compare to the original estimate? right on
How does the value of the work compare to the price? I paid too much
How far in advance did you schedule the work? within a week
Did you find the company through Angie's List? yes
If yes, which source(s)? website
Why did you choose this contractor? location, reputation
Have you used this company before? this is the first time I've used this company
What did you like most about this contractor? He was able to do an inspection on short notice
What did you like least about this contractor? His inspection wasn't worth anything since we're finding things that are broken and could have been fixed by the previous owners before we moved in.
What words of advice would you give other members considering this contractor? Think long and hard before you use this guy...We've spent a few thousand dollars on things he should have caught and will have to spend more to repair the leak coming from the slab.
Actual screens shots of review:
Fake review at Angie's list screen shot 1
Fake review at Angie's list screen shot 2
Well, you guessed it, I was pretty shocked. As a Houston home Inspector I’ve worked for years to provide my customers with the best service that I possibly can for a good value. As many business owners already know, this means working long, hard hours, pursuing continuing education, buying expensive tools and doing everything from marketing to actual field work. My business is built on referrals and I was very concerned about this review and wondered why I had never heard anything about this complaint from the home inspection customer or their Agent. Further, doesn’t Angie’s list send notification when a review is posted?
I decided to investigate. As you can see, the Angie’s List member provides their name and address. My home inspection software provider, HomeGauge, keeps a digital copy of every home inspection that my company has completed and it’s in a searchable database. The database spans ten years. I searched the report database by name, nothing. I searched by the street address, nothing still. I searched by street only. As it would turn out, we have never even worked an inspection on that street or for this person. .
I dug a little deeper. I checked the Harris county tax records for the address. The name Carr does not show up on the tax records for 5412 Valerie 77401. The home at that address has been owned by another couple from 2007 to present and lists the Mr. and the Mrs. In fact, when I checked the property records for the entire street, the name Carr does not show up in any of the records. From the tax records I was able to 411 the phone number for the residents at 5412 Valerie and so I called them. The residents there do not know a Kimberly Carr and they have lived there since 2007. It’s not a mistake and it’s not a review intended for some other inspection company. Here is the link to the 2007 tax record for this property: 5412 Valerie 2007 tax record the person that made the review never owned the property as they claim. It appears that the person that made the review lied and violated the Angie’s List membership agreement. Yet Angie’s List is reluctant to remove the fraudulent review.
At this point it was clear that this Angie’s list review was a total and obvious fraud. Further, the intent appears to have been to do my company or I harm. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against anyone named Kimberly Carr, that name appears to have been used fraudulently by someone that may have committed a series of crimes including; identity theft, fraud, libel and deceptive trade practices to name a few.
So I called Angie’s list. The people there were very nice to me as I explained the situation. I spoke with four people, including a Supervisor and Director. I asked them if Kimberly Carr had been a member of Angie’s list at any time. They assured me that she had. I said that this must mean that this person’s credit card has been charged at least one time by Angie’s List. They said that it most likely had. I asked if the member used any other name and address other than those listed in the review and they said, “No”. The people at Angie’s List of course have a process. It includes notifying the member that my company takes exception to their review and awaiting their response. I tried to show them that this particular case was obvious fraud, that the supposed member violated the terms of the Angie’s list membership agreement and I tried to get the matter escalated, but it seems the company may be “stuck on stupid processes". Regardless, I decided to wait and see if they ended up doing the right thing but I couldn’t help but wonder what is really going on with that company. At this point they seemed indifferent; you would think in a clear case of fraud, the matter could be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
So two weeks come and go by as I wait and then Angie’s list sends me this notice:
Thank you for contacting us about the review submitted by Kimberly Carr. We tried to contact this member to reconfirm the review, but we did not hear back from them. Even though the member did not respond to the reconfirmation questions, the review will remain. The review is the property of the member, who confirmed the accuracy of their statements upon submitting their feedback.
If the member does follow-up with us in the future, and they confirm that the review is on the incorrect company, then the review will either be moved to the correct company, or deleted.
In the meantime I would encourage you to take advantage of our free review generation tools , to help you collect more feedback, and build up your listing. Use our review forms to hand out to current and past customers in order to gather feedback. With our Fetch A Review program, we have a dedicated team of specialists who will reach out to our mutual clients to help you gather reviews.
Thanks again, and if you have any additional questions or concerns, please let us know. We’ll be happy to help.
P.S. The most important thing you can do to increase your standing on the List is to take advantage of the many benefits our Business Center website has to offer. Not only will you be able to manage your company profile, but you can also respond to member reports and explore the free tools we have to help you collect more feedback. We look forward to helping you get more jobs from Angie’s List members!
Angie’s List was unable to get a response from the reviewer via telephone, email, snail mail or any other method available to them and yet the review still stands.
While Angie’s list touts “REVIEWS THAT YOU CAN TRUST”, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a review of the Angie’s List Membership Agreement indicates that Angie’s List goes to great lengths to distance themselves from their membership’s reviews stating that they are merely a conduit between the reviewer and the company and that “Angie’s List does not guarantee the accuracy, integrity, quality or appropriateness of any content transmitted through their service.” How is it then that Angie’s List provides reviews that can be trusted? Angie’s List really wants nothing to do with what their members post. Who could blame them?
Angie’s List hides behind the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA 1996) and they know that they are immune from prosecution for what their members write. Angie’s List refuses to remove a fraudulent review even when proof is offered that their member lied and violated Angie’s List very own membership agreement. They don’t have to. This puts a problem with a fraudulent review/reviewer squarely between you and someone that has committed identity theft and/or is a liar. It is clearly stated in the terms of Angie’s List membership agreement in section 9(b) “all of your reviews and ratings of the Service Providers that you are rating will be accurate, truthful and complete in all respects.” But of course fraudsters have little regard for Angie's List rules.
By their own admission Angie’s List does nothing to insure that member’s reviews are not fraudulent, ill intentioned, or created by competitors other than trusting that their membership abide by the membership agreement. There is no member ethics review board, there is no member review quality control panel. What you deal with is the “Help Desk “and the help desk knows the drill, they’ve been through it many times. See Why Angies List Sucks Every company owner choosing to list their company on Angie’s list needs to know that. Further it’s important to know that Angie’s List will not act as judge and jury in disputes over fake reviews. Although Angie’s List does reserve the right to remove any review at their sole discretion, it seems that nothing short of a court order will compel them to remove a review that can be proven is fraudulent or where it can be proven that the reviewer lied. They do this because they know they are protected by the CDA of 1996 and they know it will cost the average business person thousands of dollars in attorney fees to try to get a court order.
Is it possible that Angie’s List would internally create negative reviews on companies that use one of their free listings? I don’t know the answer to that question but consider this; Angie’s List knows they are immune and protected from anything posted on their web site by so called “members” and Angie’s List receives revenue from paid advertisers who they want to be at the top of the search results for their categories. Combine this with Angie’s list reluctance to remove fake reviews and you don’t have to be a genius to determine that this is a recipe for abuse. If your company is doing “swimmingly” on Angie’s List and you start getting phone calls from them to buy enhanced listings, you will have to carefully weigh your options.
So here’s Angie’s List’s suggested solution to my problem: Give them my client list so that they can cross reference it to their membership and then solicit reviews from them regarding my company to dilute the effect of the fraudulent review. They promise they won’t use any contacts that don’t cross reference with their member list. What do you think? READ Opinions here at the NY Times, My opinion is that Angie’s List has a low regard for ethics and compromises integrity and doing the right thing for money. They leverage their immunity from prosecution for revenue by selling “Reviews That You Can Trust” knowing there’s not a darn thing anyone can do about reviews that are fraudulent short of a court order which most people won’t bother with. When contractors complain about fake reviews Angie’s List “solution” is for the contractor to give them their customer contacts so they can solicit them for paid memberships.All comments made by Angie’s List members are behind their paid membership barrier. This means potential clients can't see them on the internet unless they pay Angie’s List. I guess that's something of a silver lining. Well that and the notion that Angie’s List has struggled for profitability with their outdated model that currently survives by a recent infusion of dollars by investors most likely to lose their bet as Angie’s List squanders the cash on their way to crashing and burning, see Five Pillars to Angie’s List Demise.
Multiple other free options exist for consumers such as Yelp and Home Advisor among others; see Is Angie’s List Worth the Membership Fee? But most review services have their own inherent problems. Yelp has a habit of removing legitimate customer reviews claiming they have an algorithm that filters erroneous reviews and Home Advisor used to be Service Magic, enough said. The truth is that being a service review company is hard, really hard, and none of them seem to offer a perfect solution. So, who can you trust when it comes to finding a good referral for a decent contractor? The consensus clearly points to friends, neighbors, family members or trusted industry professionals that have had an actual experience with that contractor.
As most good stories seem to end happily, this one does too. About a month after my initial complaint to Angie's List, one of their Director level employees called me back to say that they did indeed check out the tax records on line, had not received a response form the reviewing member after several attempts to reach out to them and in their opinion, the review was bogus. Therefore, considering these facts, they were going to take the unusual measure of removing the bogus review from my company's record. Well I guess that's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!
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