An Edmonton man is questioning the quality of information from the Better Business Bureau after paying money to one of its top-rated companies and getting nothing in return.
Tyler Hauck used the BBB, along with a customer-reviews website, to help him choose a professional plumber.
“I thought the Better Business Bureau would give me a good indication of whether this fellow was professional or not.”
He chose an accredited BBB member whom the organization said had been in business since 1990 and which it had awarded its highest “A+” rating.
But Go Public discovered the company was a recent start-up; that its owner is bankrupt owing more than a $1 million and was recently found guilty of securities fraud.
After Go Public began asking questions about the record of company’s owner, the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta revoked the company’s accreditation and changed its rating to “F.”
The change came too late for Hauck.
Months after his bathroom was supposed to have been re-plumbed, Hauck is still washing his baby in the kitchen sink and is out $400.
Consumer wanted a qualified professional
Hauck and his wife have spent the past decade renovating their modest bungalow In south Edmonton.
The latest project began at the beginning of July with an overhaul of the main bathroom.
Hauck did most of his renovations himself, but preferred to leave plumbing and wiring to the professionals.
“I want everything to be done to code,” he said.
A friend told Hauck about HandyCanadian.com, a website where people can post a description of the job they want doing and which different contractors can access.
One of the contractors who contacted him was Dedric Robinson, owner of The Improvement Source.
Before negotiating with Robinson, Hauck searched for reviews of the company.
“I didn’t walk blindly into this,” Hauck said. “I definitely looked at as many websites as I could to see if he had a positive rating.”
At the time, HandyCanadian.com gave The Improvement Source five stars out of five and the BBB rated it “A+.”
Hauck said he felt a bit wary because he dealt with Robinson only by phone and email.
“But he definitely sounded well-spoken and [his emails] were well-worded and well-written.”
They agreed the work would be completed within three days.
Then Robinson asked for a $400 deposit.
“That set off a bit of a red flag,” Hauck said.
But he agreed to pay the deposit, via email transfer, based on Robinson’s assurances and the apparent good reputation of the company.
Hauck said didn’t hear anything else until the day the work was supposed to have been completed.
Someone saying he was with The Improvement Source called offering to come by that evening.
Hauck said the man arrived in an unmarked van and didn’t appear professional. He said his impression was borne out when the man failed to show up to do the job two days later.
“I called him and said, ‘Are you going to do the work?' and he said, ‘I’m not comfortable in doing the work. I’m not really a plumber,’” Hauck said.
Hauck then got an email from someone else at The Improvement Source who said he could possibly come by mid-month.
But, Hauck said, no one ever did come and that despite repeated phone calls, texts and emails, he never heard from The Improvement Source or Dedric Robinson again.
Hauck filed a complaint about The Improvement Source with the Better Business Bureau, but the BBB had already closed the file in September when Robinson failed to respond to its inquiries.
Fined, banned and bankrupt
It turns out that The Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta accredited The Improvement Sources, giving it its highest rating, even though Robinson‘s financial and legal problems were already a matter of public record.
According to an online profile, Robinson was a banking executive in the United States before entering real estate sales and development in Edmonton in 2004.
In 2007, he founded LibertyGate Investment Corp, which described itself as a “premier land and real estate investment corporation.”
The company raised millions for projects in Edmonton, Cold Lake and Regina.
In 2011, Robinson filed for bankruptcy and was also fired by an Edmonton real estate company for “unethical practise.”
The Alberta Securities Commission investigated Robinson and LibertyGate in February 2012 for illegally trading securities.
In January 2013, a bankruptcy judge didn’t believe Robinson was an “honest and unfortunate bankrupt” and refused to discharge him from more than $800,000 in debts.
The commission threw the book at Robinson in May 2013, banning him from the Alberta capital market for 20 years, fining him personally $200,000 plus $77,000 in costs and permanently banning LibertyGate.
All of this — including the fact The Information Source was in fact only a year old — was public knowledge when Tyler Hauck went to the BBB website looking for information on the company.
In fact, the BBB had opened a separate file on LibertyGate in 2008.
The BBB says The Improvement Source’s loss of accreditation and new “F” rating was the result of six customer complaints against it, as well as the separate Alberta Securities Commission action against LibertyGate.
Top rating a mystery, says BBB
Go Public asked the BBB how it could fail to make the connection between The Improvement Source, Liberty Gate and Robinson.
“I couldn’t honestly tell you,” said Ron Mycholuk, public relations manager for the BBB of Central and Northern Alberta.
“Sometimes the information gets to us and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
“We never want misses — someone who’s doing things wrong to have an “A” or an “A+” — but it’s the nature of the beast. There’s so many businesses out there.”
Mycholuk tells people not to rely solely on BBB ratings.
“It’s not that you have to take what we say with a grain of salt,” he said, “but you need to supplement what you get from us with other sources, especially people that you trust, people that you know, whether it’s friends or family, who have done business … with other contractors.
There were glowing, but short, five-star reviews for The Improvement Source when Hauck went to HandyCanadian.com.
We asked Max Sheppard of HandyCanadian.com how the site verifies if reviews are real.
“We do not claim that every review that is approved and posted on our site is authentic,” Sheppard said in an email. “We do however feel that customers can rely more on the reviews available via our site than any of our competitors.”
HandyCanadian.com has since changed its name to TrustedPros.ca.
‘Buyer-beware’ with websites, says watchdog
Bruce Cran of the Consumers’ Association said “buyer-beware” when reading on-line reviews including the BBB’s.
“I wouldn’t put much faith in them at all,” Cran said.
“I don’t know of any … reason why you would trust anyone more because they were listed as a member of the Better Business Bureau than if they weren’t,” he said. “After all, their source of funding is the member you are looking at.”
Cran says neither sites like TrustedPros nor the BBB offer any guarantees about the quality of their ratings.
Robinson returned calls two weeks after Go Public first tried arranging an interview. He insists Hauck's $400 was for his subcontractor to buy materials and that Hauck cancelled the job before it was done, leaving him with $400 worth of materials he couldn’t use.
Robinson says he has nevertheless refunded the money to Hauck “as an act of kindness.”
“Hopefully, having the refund will appease him even though the refund isn’t necessarily required and is going to cost us money on this end.”
Robinson is now operating another company, Capitol Renovations, rated five stars by TrustedPros.ca