Action News Troubleshooters Investigation: Beware before you click to hire 

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- When you're looking to hire someone, you might find yourself on a website that promises to match you with the right professional or service worker, depending on the job you need done.

Many online platforms also provide customer reviews and claim to do background checks. But here's a warning from a homeowner in South Philadelphia. She has a story that will break your heart and make you skeptical about online recommendations.

"The ceiling was supposed to be finished. The floor was supposed to be finished," said Linda Bonigut. "He destroyed my house. He destroyed my bank account. He destroyed like emotionally everything. And the worst part about it is it all could have been avoided."

When Bonigut needed a contractor to update her new home in South Philadelphia, she went on a website called Thumbtack.

SEE ALSO: How reliable are those websites that match you with professionals to hire?
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When you're looking for someone to hire many people now turn to the internet. Whether you're looking to hire a painter, mover, or contractor, you can find one online.

"They matched me with Hodgden Property Services, Tim Hodgen," she said.

"The contractor you hired had a five-star rating?" asked Troubleshooter Nydia Han.

"Yes. He was rated very well," she said.

Bonigut paid Hodgden $48,000 in the summer of 2019. She showed Han what her home looked like before the work.

"It was really nice, certainly a lot better than it is now," said Bonigut.

"How do you feel when you see it today?" asked Han.

"Very upset," she said. "It's a lot different when you walk in. Now I have no flooring, ceilings, no lighting, no functioning bathroom."

The work should have been completed in six to eight weeks. But six months from the time the agreement was signed and after he did demolition work, Bonigut said Hodgden disappeared.

"He collected my money and slowly but surely, he stopped coming," she said. "And I just stopped hearing from him."

"I look around and I just get angry," she said. "At this point, my bank account is empty. I just have to pick up the pieces. I have nothing."

Han asked Hodgden about Bonigut's problem.

"She said she gave you $48,000 and you walked off the job," asked Han.

"I don't know anything about that," Hodgden replied.

"Why didn't you do the work? We've seen the contract. We've seen the checks she wrote you," asked Han.

Then he got into his truck, closed the door and drove away.

The story of the contractor accused of bad acts is not unique. What makes this story different is Bonigut also blames the website that recommended him.

"I thought I did what I was supposed to do," she said.

"You're as angry at Thumbtack as you are at your contractor?" Han asked.

"I'm infuriated with Thumbtack, they put me in this position. They set me up for failure," she said.

On Thumbtack, Hodgden had a 5-star rating and was listed as a "top pro" with verified reviews and a background check. Thumbtack said he did pass a criminal background check in 2018 and had an active Pennsylvania Home Improvement Contractor registration. But it turns out Hodgden had been convicted of several crimes dating back to 1996 and 2003.

"Such as bad checks, theft by deception, assault. I don't understand why that did not raise a red flag," she said. "So all of this should have come up. And if it didn't come up, that is a terrible background check."

Our Troubleshooter, a Call for Action volunteer, Lance Haver, checked out how Thumbtack works.

"Thumbtack does no investigation as to the quality of the work that's done," said Haver.

"I signed up as a life coach, something I have no experience with. I gave myself a fake degree from a fake institution, and Thumbtack put it up," he said.

Thumbtack sent Haver more than 1,000 customer leads. And as for reviews?

"Our Call for Action team wrote reviews and the reviews were completely fraudulent. Thumbtack put them up anyway," he said. "You think that they're looking out for you. You think they're matching you with the right person when clearly all they're doing is trying to make money by selling leads to the contractors."

Thumbtack said, "We have high standards for service professionals... In the rare event, we receive a negative report... our team will immediately investigate and take appropriate action."

It also said, "Reviews from Thumbtack customers are labeled as 'verified'."

"That they allowed him to go through I think is disgraceful," Bonigut said. "You're bringing somebody into my house that has been convicted of something that I'm paying them for in the same way that they were convicted. I want people to know not to use Thumbtack. I think the company is terrible," she said.

After Bonigut's complaint, Thumbtack did permanently remove Hodgden from its platform. In 2019, it also offered her $2,500, which was the maximum amount allowed under the Thumbtack Guarantee at the time.

Meantime, Bonigut has now filed a lawsuit against Hodgden.

And please be aware, Hodgden has had multiple business names and currently goes by T&B Property Services.

Read Thumbtack's full statement released to Action News:

"We have high standards for service professionals using Thumbtack to find customers and expect them to provide excellent customer experiences.

In the rare event we receive a negative report about a professional, our team will immediately investigate and take appropriate action.

When the customer, Ms. Bonitgut, reached out in November 2019, we responded right away and immediately began investigating what had occurred. In response to her report, Mr. Hodgden was permanently removed from the Thumbtack platform in November 2019.

For reference, here is what we know about Mr. Hodgden:

He passed a criminal background check administered by a nationally accredited background check provider on April 21, 2018
He had 13 reviews and an overall rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on Thumbtack
At the time of the complaint, Hodgden Property Services had an active HIC through the State of Pennsylvania (# PA139828)

Promoting trust and safety for both pros and customers is very important to us. We have a dedicated team of trust and safety specialists who constantly monitor the platform and take action when appropriate.

Reviews and ratings appear on a pro's profile for future customers to read and consider when making a hiring decision. We ask customers to rate and review pros they interact with or hire on Thumbtack. Reviews from Thumbtack customers are labeled as 'verified'.

You can learn more about how we empower customers to hire with confidence on Thumbtack by visiting our safety page."

For more information:

Pennsylvania Attorney General

Home Improvement Consumer Information
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