(WMC) - False names. Disposable phone numbers. Dishonored warranties.
Dustin Black has put a name and a face on shady Craigslist appliance sales.
A consumer's complaint filed with the WMC Action News 5 Investigators and court documents from three Mid-South counties revealed the Southaven man has used multiple phone numbers and aliases in a pattern of selling defective appliances through the social network.
"No, sir, I'm not intentionally selling defective appliances," Black told us when we found him on Vicksburg Dr. in Southaven. "I sell 20 to 30 appliances a week. They are returns from Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears. I buy 18-wheeler loads of them."
Karen Lax of Cordova, TN, and her husband bought a washing machine for her 83-year-old grandmother from Black through one of his listings. She said he used the name "Justin" to sell it for $150, plus delivery fees and a 30-day warranty.
"That's what prompted me and got my attention to that particular ad," she said.
A hand-written receipt indicated Lax paid Black in cash. She said it ran one cycle -- and quit. She said a certified technician discovered it had a bad motor and timer.
She said Black would not honor his warranty.
"That's what made me call you," Lax said.
Lax's complaint urged the WMC Action News 5 Investigators to team with Wilson & Turner Investigative Consultants. We made contact with Black several times undercover, seeking to purchase an appliance from one of his listings.
He used "Justin" or "Jake," but never his real name when talking either to our undercover producers or to our consultants. He failed to show for a scheduled delivery in Midtown Memphis.
He also shut down his phone contact information and changed numbers five times in six weeks.
"It appears he's using 'burner' phones," said Wilson & Turner's Andy Wilson, a private investigator and certified fraud examiner, referring to a method of disguising or "spoofing" a real phone number through "disposable" cell phone numbers. "It is absolutely by design."
"It makes me wonder how many other people have been ripped off," said Lax.
Court records indicated consumers have sued Dustin Black in Mississippi's Calhoun and DeSoto counties and in Shelby County, Tennessee for deceptive sales practices, including the sale of defective appliances.
In August 2012, John Berger of East Memphis won a $500 judgment against Black after Black sold him a refrigerator "... under the pretense that it was in working order," according to the civil warrant in Berger's complaint. The refrigerator didn't work, and Black "...gave (a) false name and refused warranty," according to the warrant.
In November 2013, Nancy Fowler of Corinth, Miss., won a $594 judgment against Black for selling her a defective refrigerator and stove. According to the declaration in Fowler's complaint, the stove did not work. The refrigerator's water filter was missing, and its water line had been cut.
"I didn't answer Ms. Nancy's warranty call because she wanted me to meet her in Tupelo," Black said. "If I don't show up there, there's a reason I didn't, because I don't feel comfortable. There are some areas I do not go back to. I mean, if I go deliver something and it's really bad areas, I don't show back up out there."
We asked him about the washing machine he sold Karen Lax and her husband.
"I mean, it don't come to mind," he answered. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I sold them something, but I sell a lot of appliances, man."
When he sells them through Craigslist or another social network, consumers have little recourse.
According to Craigslist's terms and conditions, it "makes no promise" to the security or accuracy of people selling items, and it is "not liable" for scam sales or rip-offs.
"They're not," agreed Wilson. "We have to assume that responsibility. We've got to think ahead, think like a criminal, make sure we protect ourselves."
We asked Lax why she didn't have that washing machine inspected before she purchased it.
"My husband took [Black] for [his] word, and he honestly wanted to believe that [Black] was telling the truth," she answered. "They shake your hand, and they look you straight in the eye ... you still want to think that some of those values still exist.
"Well, in this case, it didn't."
ANDY'S CONSUMER PAY-OFF: SAFE BUYING-AND-SELLING ON SOCIAL NETWORKS
(Sources: Andy Wilson, Certified Fraud Examiner/Investigator, Wilson & Turner Investigative Consultants, Memphis)
* Do not entertain listings that have:
- No voice-mail capability
- Multiple phone numbers
- Multiple names/aliases
* Type the phone number into the social network's search bar. See if others have reported scams in connection with that number.
* Insist on meeting at a neutral, public location. If it is a large item that must be displayed at the seller's residence, take someone with you. If it is an appliance, electronics, or something that would carry a warranty if it were new, consider having an expert inspect it before purchase.
* If the seller insists on meeting at a listed address, research the location. Never meet or buy at a storage facility or other venue where you cannot plug something in to test it. Don't pay anything until you've tested the item.
* Go early. Scope out the location. If anything appears sketchy, cancel the transaction.
* Don't post your address. Insist on a neutral location for the transaction.
* Only use your home if you're selling a large item. Use your garage, driveway or carport, and keep the house locked.
* Beware responses that offer to pay more than your list price up-front by mailing a check or money order. Those are attempts to forward counterfeit payments in order to access your bank account.