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7 Habits of Highly Questionable Businesses

On Behalf of | May 19, 2020 | Consumer Protection |

With thanks and apologies to Stephen Covey this list is a combination of complaints I have heard from clients and prospective clients as well as things I have experienced first-hand. If you are a business owner try to avoid the things on this list. If you are a consumer or otherwise deciding whether to deal with a business you should remain ever-vigilant. If you notice one or two of the things on this list it is time for reconsideration. If you see several more things on this list you may want to run the other way.

1. They refuse to put promises in writing. Phrases like “trust me” or “we will take care of you” are their stock in trade. At one point and time a man’s or woman’s word was enough but those days are long gone. To avoid confusion or convenient amnesia it is always best to get all important promises in writing. This includes warranties, promises to repair, promises to pay, agreements to accept a lesser amount as payment in full on a debt, etc. Rely on words alone at your own peril……

2. They skimp on details. When you do get a promise or statement it lacks dates, exact dollar amounts, names, or other indicia of trustworthiness. I think you see the problem here.

3. They are loathe to follow up. You know the drill. The business keeps you in the dark as your phone calls, e-mails, and other communications go unreturned. You receive no real status reports unless you persistently demand them. If and when you do get an update it tells you very little and, even worse, may tell you something you do not want to hear.

4. They over-promise and under-deliver. Service professionals (ex: lawyers, doctors, contractors) have to balance a customer or client’s need for definite answers with the fact that multiple variables and factors may limit the desired level of detail. A client may ask a lawyer how much a personal injury case is worth but this answer hinges on the facts of the accident, the nature of the client’s injury, the nature and duration of medical treatment, and even the geographical area in which the case may be tried…….to name a few. Even worse, some businesses may tell customers what they want to hear instead of the truth—the two are not always the same. Honesty is always the best policy and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.

5. They are funny with the money. Estimates tend to be verbal and invoices fail to sufficiently explain what goods, services, labor, materials, and other items for which you are being charged. Receipts may be an afterthought and may lack critical details such as “payment in full” language, date of payment, or statement of warranty. And if the business is supposed to pay you money there may be delays, surprise defenses, and deductions.
If the goods and services provided to you by the business are in excess of $100.00 and the only form of payment accepted by the business is cash and the receipt provided is skimpy in nature, this could be a red flag. If you need your receipt for tax or business purposes you should use the IRS guidelines for proof of payment as a guide as to what level of detail you need on the receipt.

6. References and records are hard to find. No website, no phone book advertisement or listing, no fax number, no physical business location, no real track record. These are all indications that you may need to take your business elsewhere. If you seek information on a business you can check multiple sources. If you have reason to believe a business has had legal problems you can even check the local courthouse and search for records of any lawsuits, claims, liens, or judgments against (or by) the business.

To verify status as a corporation or LLC in North Carolina check the Secretary of State website. If the business appears to be a sole proprietorship or operates under an assumed name you can search the local Register of Deeds for a Certificate of Assumed Name.

In North Carolina to research whether a professional or contractor is properly licensed and any history of disciplinary actions you can check state licensing boards such as:

North Carolina State Bar (for attorneys)
North Carolina Medical Board (for doctors)
NC Licensing Board for General Contractors
North Carolina Real Estate Commission (for real estate agents)
State Board of Examiners for Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors
North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors
NC State Board of Examiners of Electrical Contractors

The above are just a few of the many occupational and trade licensing boards for professionals. If the business in which you are interested is not covered by one of the above boards you should conduct your own search for the existence and location of the board relevant to your inquiry. And if no board covers the business in question you can still conduct a Google, Yahoo, Yelp, or other online search for reviews and comments on the business.

7. The human factor is their weakest link. Businesses are groups of human beings. Some are large groups others are quite small. When you boil it all down you will have some personal interaction with at least every business. Are the people rude? Do they appear as if they genuinely care about helping you or providing the goods/services you need? Do you feel rushed? Do they answer your questions and even invite more? Do they make you feel comfortable during your interactions? Do they provide you the information and resources needed to make the necessary decisions? Is there a constant shuffling of who you need to correspond with during your business transaction/relationship?

When deciding on a business use the above as your criteria and allow your instincts to help you make your final determination. If you are in need of legal help regarding a business that has not fulfilled its end of the bargain, contact an experienced attorney. Best wishes in your search for the business that is right for you.