When Does an Incompetent Mechanic Become a Criminal Mechanic?

Repairing and checking a carSo far in 2016, a number of local TV news crews have exposed shady self-employed mechanics who over-promise and under-deliver. But when does an incompetent mechanic become a criminal mechanic? Where exactly is the line between a botched job and a fraudulent con?

In Enfield, Connecticut, local police are warning residents about a “backyard mechanic” offering local drivers great deals on repairs. Unfortunately, the cars are often in worse shape after backyard mechanic Alfred “Freddie” Alzak Jr. works on them. One driver said that when she finally got her Nissan Pathfinder back, it was not only drained of brake fluid, but the odometer had mysteriously gained about 500 extra miles.

Going to a freelance mechanic seemed like a cheap, convenient alternative to a regular auto mechanic shop, which don’t exactly have a stellar reputation either. Unfortunately, Enfield police say they’ve received multiple complaints about Alzak Jr.

And while a few drivers being cheated out of a few hundred dollars might seem like a trivial matter, driving in a poorly repaired vehicle can be deadly. Every year, vehicle neglect costs U.S. residents an estimated $2 billion. Even worse, vehicle neglect-related accidents cause 2,600 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries annually.

But as any seasoned freelancer knows all too well, there’s little police can do in situations like these. Whether it’s the freelancer or the client who’s been cheated, police say disputes like these are a civil matter, not a criminal case. That means in order to get money back, the wronged party would have to pursue a costly, time-consuming civil lawsuit.

For his part, Azlak Jr. said the reports are “all false,” naturally.

“I plan on doing the right thing,” he told NBC Connecticut. “I did the best to my ability. All I did was try and help somebody and it grew out of hand. I had someone help me, and he messed up more cars than I could fix.”

In February, Detroit’s FOX 2 ran a similar expose about another local self-employed mechanic conning drivers, a man known as “Mobile Mechanic Rick.” The story is largely the same: a mechanic who over-promises, accepts money, and then leaves jobs unfinished. And like crooked contractors the world over, it’s everyone’s fault but theirs.

Often, a self-employed mechanic, mover, or construction contractor takes a job they actually intend to finish, but they soon realize they’re in over their head, leaving customers feeling cheated. Even if they didn’t mean to con their clients, the effect is the same.

Freelancing can be a great way to earn a living, when done properly. Unfortunately, when things go awry, the client feels cheated, potentially even filing a civil suit or trying to damage the freelancer’s professional reputation.

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