Golden-Based HomeAdvisor Sued By San Francisco DA
The city of San Francisco has sued Golden-based HomeAdvisor, accusing it of claiming that it does background checks on its home-services professionals while actually only checking some of them.
“HomeAdvisor’s advertisements are false and misleading because they are likely to deceive consumers into believing that all service professionals hired through HomeAdvisor who come into their homes have passed criminal background checks. This is not the case. The only person who undergoes a background check is the owner/principal of an independently owned business,” according to the suit, filed last week by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.
Gascon is asking HomeAdvisor to stop making misleading, false or deceptive statements and to pay a civil penalty of $2,500 per violation.
“Our first and foremost concern is focused on protecting the consumer,” said assistant DA Alex Bastian. A hearing is scheduled for April 12, when the DA’s office will ask for a preliminary injunction, Bastian said.
A HomeAdvisor spokeswoman said, “We do not comment on ongoing legal matters.”
The company, which recently merged with Angie’s List to become ANGI Homeservices (though it still uses the HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List brand names), has been thriving ever since changing its name in 2012 from ServiceMagic. It built a business of connecting homeowners to electricians, plumbers and other home-services professionals. At the end of 2017, HomeAdvisor said it had a network of 181,000 professionals in 400 U.S. markets.
According to the lawsuit, HomeAdvisor touts its network of “hundreds of thousands of background-checked pros” in radio and TV ads and online. But the DA’s office found that HomeAdvisor doesn’t check the employees of a business or even on the owner of a business that is a franchise or independent contractor for a larger company. And that detail didn’t appear in the company’s advertisements.
“Instead, for a few seconds, the offending television ads display a difficult to read message in tiny print in a light-colored font saying, ‘Learn about HomeAdvisor’s screening procedures at www.homeadvisor.com/screening.’ … It does not signal to consumers that there might be qualifications,” says the suit, which goes on to share 14 examples of ads such as the one featuring a “scruffy-faced millennial extolling the benefits of HomeAdvisor” because the company “matches you with background checks (sic) pros.”
The DA’s office asked the company to stop the ads Dec. 28, 2017, but the company did not agree to do so.
On its website, HomeAdvisor says it looks at these in its screening process: applicable state trade licenses, a sex-offender search, civil judgments such as bankruptcy or significant legal judgments, state incorporation, Social Security verification and a criminal-records search. Under terms and conditions, the company says that it does not screen employees, franchisees, dealers or independent contractors of larger national or corporate accounts.
Its description of the criminal-records search, however, has been updated from March 4, when the DA’s office captured a screen image of the page. HomeAdvisor has added wording that its third-party vendor uses a national criminal database to screen professionals. But such screenings vary by state. For 21 states, including Colorado, “reporting in the (national criminal database) is particularly limited.”