Car fixers turn to Web

Local car mechanics are turning to the Internet in a bid to protect themselves from customers who skip out on repair bills.

Kelly Collins, an auto-shop owner featured in an Aug. 22 Review-Journal story about consumers ripping off garages, has joined a new Web site listing the names of consumers who have allegedly defrauded repair businesses.

Collins joined the two-month-old Autoshopblacklist.com in an effort to reduce consumer fraud at Hyundais Only, the repair shop she co-owns on Spring Mountain Road.

“I think this kind of networking is becoming necessary,” Collins said. “In any type of business, you want to protect yourself. People who open bank accounts and pass lots of bad checks have trouble opening accounts at other banks. If you buy a car and don’t pay, or if you don’t pay for your power or your phone service, people are keeping track of that.”

Cory Cooper, owner of Autoshopblacklist.com, launched the site in July after tallying up the losses at his Cape Coral, Fla., repair shop. Cooper calculated that 22 deceitful customers, out of a client base of 1,500, cost his Cape Coral Automotive more than $40,000 in the past five years.

Now, the names of those patrons, and others who have reversed charges on credit cards, bounced checks or driven off in the night without paying for repairs, are appearing online at Autoshopblacklist.com. The purpose of the site: to establish a network that will alert service shops to possible scams.

Cooper said he retained a lawyer to vet his site for its legality. Only service-shop members can see the listings, and mechanics must identify themselves when they add a consumer to the site. As long as shops can verify a listed incident happened, the site is protected against slander, Cooper said.

Ron Pyle, president and chief staff officer of the Automotive Service Association, said garages will increasingly use technology to protect their businesses. Service advisers collect substantial amounts of customer information when they write job orders, so it’s easy to submit details, including clients’ names, addresses, phone numbers and vehicle-identification numbers, to databases and networks — and harder for car owners to get away with schemes.

“Shops today can share information and be more aware,” Pyle said. “Technology is catching up with (dishonest consumers), and it will be more and more difficult for consumers to skip out on paying, because there’ll be systems in place to prevent it. Shops are capturing the kind of information that will allow them to track down perpetrators more easily.”

Cooper said his e-blacklist concept could have applications for other service businesses, such as appliance repairmen. He’s considering starting a blacklist Web site for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Operating Autoshopblack list.com costs a “sizable” amount of money, but Cooper hopes to begin charging for the site’s information once membership increases. The site has about 50 member shops nationwide, including five or six in Nevada, Cooper said. He’s aiming to sign up 50,000 of the country’s 150,000 independent repair businesses. He’ll be buying advertisements in trade publications, and he’s also bought a booth at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association’s fall trade show in Las Vegas. The trade show, one of the city’s biggest, is scheduled to have more than 100,000 attendees.

Collins said she expects Autoshopblacklist.com to be more useful as additional shops sign on.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “Years ago, we talked on and off about doing something like this, but we never had the drive to do it. It’s just on the ground floor right now, but we’re happy it’s there.”

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