'Buyer beware' still a good philosophy

August 21, 2013 

Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

The legal principle dates back centuries, but it's also a good philosophy to practice these days when acquiring almost anything.

Beware of anyone promising to miraculously pull your home out of foreclosure and hand it back to you.

Beware of advertisements assuring cheap health insurance that sounds too good to be true. Proponents and opponents don't agree on much but do share concern about fraud related to the Affordable Care Act.

Beware of people who pose as contractors but just want your money, not your business.

We learned that Modesto Christian School was duped to the tune of almost $50,000 last year by a Florida man who had a professional-looking website and persuasive stationery but no evident skills or intent to build bleachers at the school's football stadium as he contracted to do. Jason Anthony Grillo has never been a licensed contractor in California, but school officials were misled by the good front he put up.

So it is with scam artists. Too bad some of them aren't in legitimate sales jobs.

Grillo was convicted by a jury of felony diversion of construction funds and grand theft. He was sentenced to spend two years in the Stanislaus County jail and pay restitution. Whether the latter will actually happen is questionable given that he also is wanted in Florida.

Meanwhile, the experience is a good reminder to all of us — as individual consumers or as decision-makers for business, nonprofits and public agencies — that we have to be diligent in checking out the people who seek to sell us goods and services.

Having a printed business card is not a sign that someone has or represents a legitimate business. As this case shows, a quality website also is not proof of legitimacy.

Ask questions. Be skeptical. Get license numbers and then check them out through the appropriate agency. When hiring someone to build something, that agency is the state Contractors Licensing Board. The state's Department of Consumer Affairs provides useful tips and links to licensing entities on its website, www.dca.ca.gov.

Sadly, in almost every aspect of our lives, we need to beware before buying. This advice is never outdated.

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