ServiceMagic.com, or SpamMagic?

This summer, we had a problem with water in the basement. With our son in the hospital, it didn't exactly take a high priority, but eventually we had to get it taken care of, as it was bringing in a lot of sediment and mildew (and mold is one of my biggest allergy-triggers). I realized, though, that for a problem like this, where I had what appeared to be water seeping into the basement from an unknown source (was it coming in from underground, a broken pipe, or a leaky vent to the outside?), I had no idea who to call. That's when someone directed me to the web site, ServiceMagic.com. "Get Matched to Top-Rated Service Professionals", their site proclaims.

So, I created an account and described my problem. I thought this would be a good opportunity to use my brand new Google Voice phone number, too (720-23-YAKKO :D ), as I wouldn't have to provide my cell or home telephone number, just in case. As you will see, this turned out to be quite a blessing.

I got a call from a company to come out and take a look. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they had one time available that week that didn't work for me, and the next available time was several weeks away. I went ahead and scheduled that other time. I then called my insurance agent, and from them I got a list of contractors they used. (I also checked to see if my homeowner's policy would cover this water damage, which, alas, it didn't.) I called one of their "preferred contractors", and they were able to schedule a time in the much more immediate future.

In the meantime, I got another call from the contractor that ServiceMagic referred to me, asking again if I wanted the time that wouldn't work for me. (Note that these calls were going to my Google Voice number, so they would leave a message and I would call them back.) The contact number was very different, leading me to believe that I first was contacted by a scheduling service before and the local contractor later. Whether the scheduler was a part of ServiceMagic, the contractor, or some third-party go-between, I'm not sure. But in any case, I again verified my appointment for several weeks out.

The contractor I contacted through my insurance agent came out and diagnosed the problem as a leaky drainage pan with the air conditioner. We then scheduled an appointment with the HVAC company to come out and fix that (and reconsidered an annual maintenance contract with them), and the leak was taken care of. (It actually cost us twice as much more for the contractor to diagnose the problem, than it did for the HVAC guys to fix it.) Problem solved, I then called the other contractor — the one referred to me by ServiceMagic — and canceled my appointment.

The contractor has since contacted me a couple more times (once by phone and once in a letter), and ServiceMagic once (e-mail), about that appointment directly. Basically, the nature of the messages have been "if you reconsider, we can still help you". Nothing outrageous, and nothing to get too upset about.

What has been extremely annoying have been the completely unsolicited calls I've received, totally unrelated to this project. I had three calls attempting to schedule a time to install carbon monoxide detectors in my basement (one claiming it was required to meet compliance for rental properties — my home is not a rental; and anyway, I already have a CO alarm in my basement), and one was a plumber that was, as his message said, "calling to verify our appointment in a half an hour" (I of course had made no such appointment).

Again, fortunately, this is all going to my Google Voice phone number, so I'm not bothered at work or at home by these phone calls for random services I did not order or do not want. However, it still bothers me that ServiceMagic.com seems to be giving out my personal information to contractors that have nothing to do with me, without my authorization (I did actually click an OK before the first contractor called me). So far, I only have to listen to and ignore their messages; heaven help them if someone comes to my doorstep claiming they have an appointment.

And how do I know this is coming from ServiceMagic? Well, not only are these contractor-type phone calls that came in after I requested some kind of home service, but they are coming to a phone number that I had never before used or published. Could Google Voice (or, its former name, "Grand Central") have obtained this phone number from a pool of "recycled" numbers from someone who just happened to be a rental property owner who hired a plumber this month? Maybe, but that's an awfully large coincidence. Could my information have leaked out not from ServiceMagic, but from the contractor they worked with or some third party in between (such as the "scheduling agent" who first contacted me, whom I am not certain about)? Again, possibly; but that would reveal a potential danger in the whole process of obtaining a contractor through ServiceMagic.com anyway.

I have since changed my personal information on my ServiceMagic.com account to something more or less random. I most certainly will not be using them again, and I would encourage everyone else to avoid them as well.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I am a business and they are getting very agressive on my end of things too. I is not at all cool. They are hijacking my business info and publishing it under all sorts of websites with their own phone number and "service magic" in fine print.