Using the Internet to Cheat Consumers

Mike Holmes exudes credibility because of his knowledge and actions, not because of a slick web site.

Mike Holmes exudes credibility because of his knowledge and actions, not because of a slick web site.

Home renovations shows are useful to me because they educate the public in the care and feeding of your home. Like any system, homes need maintenance and upkeep. Knowing what to do can prevent major damage and expense in the long run. On occasion, these seemingly mundane shows highlight issues that stick to me. Recently Mike Holmes, from “Homes on Holmes” and “Holmes Inspection” lamented that one of his customers found a contractor online, thought the guy was legit and handed him $25,000CAD for a basement renovation. This legit contractor subcontracted out and created a structural and aesthetic disaster of dangerous quality. Mike’s conclusion: You can’t find a legit contractor from a web site. I agree with him.

Finding a credible contractor here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is difficult. If a contractor does shoddy work and damages your house, as long as the contractor has completed some work, any work, no matter how badly, the only legal recourse is to go after them with a civil lawsuit. There is no possibility of filing fraud or criminal charges against the contractor. So many people have been cheated by contractors that do little to no work, and walk away with consumers’ cash, declare bankruptcy and start again. This is the basis of Mike Holmes’ TV series. He “Makes it Right”.

I want to emphasize that a slick web site does not mean that the people behind it are credible. Maybe because I work in technology and spend a lot of time on the internet, I thought that everyone knew this. Obviously not. Almost anyone, with a proper investment, can make a slick web site. You can lie and put up all kinds of photos of great renovations that are not yours. You can state that you have affiliations with all sorts of credible organization, all fake. In fact the Internet makes such cheating easy, as all you really need is to use Google. Look up some random people and state in your website that you are their friend. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will challenge your site and so what if they do? Consider the Internet the modern version of the Wild West.

I admit that I use the Internet on a daily basis, but rarely purchase goods online. There are many reasons, but lack of credibility is high on the list. Just because they have a lovely photo of a jacket does not mean they won’t take your money and ship you something else. I am cautious with any company I don’t know. If I’m interested, I try to find a credible reference, personal or from the internet.

Personal references are best, though not foolproof. They are the traditional way of networking. You ask friends and family and they recommend someone. Then you check them out. Maybe the referee knows not much about the subject and is not capable of giving you a credible reference, so you need to do your homework. Credibility comes from deeds and actions, not what they state. Those with the “gift of the gab” can then be weeded out in favour of those that can do quality work but are not as adept at tooting their own horn.

Internet references are also possible. One might think that if a slick web site cannot denote credibility, how can one get an Internet reference? Positive, repeated, numerous and varied customer reviews point to internet credibility. Though one can use a Google search, I prefer going to an internet forum. There are active Internet forums for just about any subject. You find an internet forum using Google, though ensure it has a large base of people and is active. The longer you read and participate in a forum, the better you will know and trust certain people that post. Once you make friends and establish your own credibility, others will also trust your judgement. This is the essence of a community, Internet or otherwise. Before you try an unknown retailer, bricks and mortar or online, you can ask the community for their experience. As well, if you have had an experience, good or bad, that others can benefit, you should also post it.

For me using the Internet is pretty second nature, but there are so many people out there that are new to the medium. Unscrupulous people will utilize any means to cheat people and the Internet is just one new tool. I continue to go back to tried and true human relationships to establish credibility, and hope others do as well. Use the Internet as yet another way of extending your community to far beyond your geographic community, and your life will be richer.

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