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READY OR NOT: Avoiding the summer landscaper scam

Mary Ready
Mary Ready

You may remember last year I wrote about a rapscallion landscaper who took me and my neighbors for thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, I provided too many identifying details and put The Log at risk for a lawsuit, so it was whisked off the paper’s website after a few hours.

Sorry.

Since the growing season is upon us, here I go again because my former yardman/thief is not one of a kind. There are others like him, so I’m passing on my experience to help someone else from getting “had.”

The fellow who scammed me came highly recommended by fellow church members, so I didn’t ask any questions. Just trusted.

BAD IDEA.

In spite of his hymn singing, bible quoting, friendly demeanor and his battered old truck with a cross hanging from the rearview mirror, he was dishonest from day one.

Here’s what I learned the hard way:

If he asks for cash to go buy pine straw, fertilizer, etc., insist on a receipt and be sure that’s exactly what he said he was going to buy. A Coke or bag of chips is OK, but be sure you’re not paying for more. A more established landscaper will often use his own money for small purchases and give you the receipt for reimbursement.

Don’t put your yardman’s name on your Ace or Lowe’s account to save yourself the inconvenience of having to go buy big stuff like fruit trees or heavy bags of whatever. Instead, give him a pre-paid gift card to buy those items. That way, if he turns out to be dishonest, you’re only out that amount.

In my stupidity, I put my thief on my Lowe’s business account, and he bought himself a lawnmower and expensive power tools. I also paid for plants for his other customers who, in turn, paid him for them. He kept promising to pay me back, but never did. When asked for receipts after a purchase, he told me someone stole them from his truck.

If your landscaper needs to use your yard equipment and tools, that’s a bad sign. Especially, if you notice later those things have gone missing.

If he has no trailer, but works only out of a truck, that’s another red flag. I felt sorry for my scammer because he said he was just starting out in business and couldn’t afford a trailer or riding lawnmower. I’m not judging the struggling businessman who is working temporarily without the necessary equipment, but my guy stole enough money from me and my neighbors to buy a very nice trailer and riding mower.

It’s a good idea to have a written contract with your yardman specifying what tasks he will perform, how often he will come, and what all charges will be. At least, that’s what Judge Judy always advises.

Always pay by check and avoid cash payments. If you do pay in cash, get a receipt.

It’s also a good idea to write on your calendar when he came and how much you paid him.

If he starts a project, like laying sod or putting in plantings, and then doesn’t show up for several days, you will have to finish it yourself unless you like dead grass and plants. My yardman did that several times, citing death of various relatives or family crisis.

Speaking of sod, if he goes to a local turf company, you may have to authorize the purchase over the phone and give your credit card number. Be sure you are speaking to the manager and ask exactly what kind of grass you are paying for and how many pallets. My yardman/thief bought extra grass on my card for other customers and charged them for it. He also kept the refund money that you’re supposed to get when the wooden pallets are returned.

Same thing if he goes to an irrigation/sprinkler company. Give your credit card number only to the manager and ask a lot of questions about what you are paying for. Get a receipt.

Perhaps you don’t suffer from the same trusting stupidity that cost me and four of my neighbors a lot of money last year. Worse, yet another loss of faith in humanity. But if you’re thinking of hiring a landscaper, I hope you consider the advice I learned the hard way.

This summer, may you avoid the landscape scammer, your grass be green, and your flowers bloom abundant.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.