Rodger Fanning's complaint hit too close to me: my doorstep.
The Arlington man wanted a used washer and dryer. He scoured Star-Telegram classified ads -- something done by readers for as long as washers and dryers have been sold.
Maybe it was easier in the old days. Now buying a used appliance is as risky as buying shares of Facebook.
Fanning called a number in an ad and agreed to buy a washer and dryer for $275. But there was an unbreakable rule for the sale that the seller insisted on. Cash only. (Insert red flag here.)
The seller arrived in a small pickup. He said his name was Jason. Jason asked Fanning, 67, to help him lug the washer and dryer up a flight of stairs.
Upstairs, Fanning turned on the washer. It worked. But he forgot to do the same with the dryer. The trek up those stairs sucked the wind out of him.
"Heck, I was exhausted," he said.
The next day he turned the dryer on. The tumbler didn't turn. Turns out a belt had snapped.
He called Jason. Jason promised to come back. He didn't.
Fanning called Jason again. He wouldn't pick up. Then Fanning borrowed a friend's phone so Jason wouldn't recognize his number on caller ID.
When Jason picked up, Fanning expressed concern that he couldn't reach him, he recalls.
"Are you OK?" he asked. "I thought maybe you had an accident."
Jason answered, "I came by, and there was nobody home. I'll be over there within the hour."
Fanning said that bothered him more than the bum dryer. "It was the way he jerked me around."
Who isn't ticked when someone promises to show up and doesn't? Hearing this makes The Watchdog's heart beat faster.
I called the number in the ad. But I wasn't interested in an ELECTRIC STOVE or WHIRLPOOL WASHING MACHINE.
"This is Jason," he answered.
Introduced myself and told him about Fanning's complaint.
"Yeah, well, uh, what are you asking me exactly?"
I asked whether this is a proper way to run a business.
"I have no business," he said.
"It's something you do as a hobby?" I asked.
"For the most part."
"But you sell used appliances, right?"
"I have in the past, yes."
His story about the sale to Fanning was different.
"The dryer worked just fine when I left there."
But why didn't he return as promised?
"They're sold as is, with no warranty. ... That's one of the downfalls of buying used appliances," said the seller. He has advice: After delivery "check them out before the guy gets out of there to make sure that's something you want."
He repeated, "It's sold as is with no warranty, and it was just fine when I left there. And there's no telling what he did since then."
I asked Jason to tell me his last name.
"It doesn't sound like a good idea for me to do that," he said, laughing.
Fanning went back to Star-Telegram classified ads and found another merchant that sells used appliances. He made a deal for a trade-in. Best part? He didn't have to carry it upstairs.
The Star-Telegram has a policy not to run ads from deceptive sellers. But it doesn't have the resources -- nor do other outlets where sellers advertise -- to verify claims by ad buyers. Instead, the sales staff investigates when complaints come in.
"As long as we get several complaints, then we go ahead and pull the ad. We flag it that this is a bad advertiser, that he's out there not keeping promises," says Richard Elizondo, who worked as the Star-Telegram's classified ads sales manager before switching jobs.
Watchdog tips: Don't accept the promises of any advertiser without checking them out. Obvious ways are the Better Business Bureau and other consumer sites.
A Star-Telegram reader who has a serious problem with an advertiser should tell the newspaper's advertising staff.
Or this: I typed Jason's phone number into Google, something anyone can do.
A posting popped on 800notes.com tied to his number.
The author writes, "He delivered a refrigerator, plugged it up and I paid him.
He left and about two hours later it didn't even try to get cold. He said give it a couple more hours. If it doesn't start to get cold, he will have to come that night.
"Well, it didn't get cold. I called, and he got all [blanked]. Then he said he is not gonna come out and I bought it as is and that was tough for me."
Remember that used appliances should be bought with great care.
Remember that even though you have only a phone number of a seller, plug it into a search engine and see what pops.
And remember when an appliance is delivered, plug that in, too.
Final advice: If you're 67 and the appliance needs to go up a flight of stairs, tell the seller to bring a helper.
Coming Sunday: How a computer software program called Colossus may reduce the payout on your insurance claim.
Want more Watchdog? Read Watchdog Bytes: blogs.star-telegram.com/investigations
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043