EVANSTON (WLS) -- An Evanston man lost nearly $100,000 to a contractor he thought had been thoroughly vetted.
Retired professor Rahman Khan said HomeAdvisor referred him to a contractor, who completed the first job without issue. But when a worker for that company started his own business, things started to go wrong.
Khan took his $100,000 pension and invested it into two rental properties. He said the two Evanston walk-ups needed remodeling, so he searched for a contractor.
"We had heard all kinds of horror stories of contractors," Khan said.
So he turned to a third party service, HomeAdvisor. Their commercials state, "count on HomeAdvisor to find the best plumber, electricians, handymen and more to get the job right."
HomeAdvisor, a prescreening service that connects homeowners with contractors, referred Khan to a local company that employed Landis Beckett. The exterior work done by Beckett was completed to Khan's satisfaction.
Khan said Beckett then offered to do interior work: installing walls, flooring and kitchens, but working independently of the company referred by HomeAdvisor.
The 84-year-old signed a new contract with Beckett, who took him to home improvement showrooms then asked for money upfront.
"He took the money but he never ordered anything," said Khan's son Mujeev.
Khan said he was confident in hiring Beckett, believing he'd been vetted by HomeAdvisor. But HomeAdvisor did not do a background check on Beckett individually. As stated in their contract, they screen companies and their owners.
"I was completely disappointed," Khan told the I-Team.
His attorney Karl Leinberger, filed a lawsuit against Beckett, HomeAdvisor, the company HomeAdvisor recommended and Beckett's own company.
"It's a very limited search and you wouldn't get that impression from their advertising," said Leinberger.
The lawsuit claims HomeAdvisor's advertising is misleading, stating on their website they are "one of the industry's most comprehensive screening processes" which "gives you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you hired a pro you can trust".
Beckett was never vetted by HomeAdvisor because he doesn't own the company HomeAdvisor recommended.
Beckett has been found guilty or pleaded guilty to home repair fraud, deception and breach of contract over the past 10 years.
HomeAdvisor told the I-Team, "We are committed to creating a good experience for homeowners looking to find and hire service pros. Unfortunately, Mr. Kahn had a bad experience with a home service provider, but did not find that company on HomeAdvisor. We regret that this issue has become the subject of ongoing litigation. Landis Beckett's company, has never been a part of the HomeAdvisor network or had a HomeAdvisor listing...there is little we can do when the service provider was not part of our network."
Leinberger said his client's case is a lesson to consumers to research third party websites and apps that connect consumers to service, to make sure they understand who is being screened.
"You want to know that the level of screening. That was promised to you is being delivered," he said.
Beckett was arrested by Evanston police, charged with aggravated home repair fraud and has pleaded guilty.
When the I-Team reached out to Beckett by phone he said, he's paying back Khan as part of the case's restitution agreement "and will continue to do so until the homeowner is made whole." He said he didn't think "the situation warranted criminal charges," and that he is "a family guy who is working hard and in a bad situation."
As for Khan, his buildings sit empty, because now he has no money to remodel them.
"We never thought it would happen to us like this," Khan said.
Experts say you can ask third party referral services if they have researched the individual contractor, performing the work. You can also research companies on your own. Google the name and put in "rip-off" or "scam" next to it.
You should also only pay for contracting services with a credit card so you can dispute any charges.
Evanston man loses $100K to contractor he thought had been vetted by HomeAdvisor