On Your Side: Thumbtack

No research, no phone calls and no work. - That is how one company promotes its service, connecting people with qualified professionals for free.

But buyer beware says Consumer Reporter Steve Noviello. The fine print could leave you getting stuck.

When Noviello responded to an advertisement from 'Thumbtack,' two men, who either failed to disclose or failed to have the proper license for the HVAC job in question, were sent to his home. That put them both in violation of the rules set by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation that are punishable by a penalty in the thousands of dollars.

In Thumbtack's advertisement, the company says "you get matched with qualified professionals for free."

But not everyone is on board.

A licensed HVAC contractor, who didn’t want FOX 4 to disclose his name or show his face, says Thumbtack allows anyone to advertise for work they may not be qualified to do. He says no license could mean no background check, no insurance and no education.

The contractor says he's losing business to companies who could be putting consumers at risk.

"This is cheapening my trade," he said. "I notified Thumbtack, and they basically told me it's up to the contractor, to be honest. And I said, 'Well, this involves money. Do you think everyone is gonna be honest?'"

FOX 4 got the same response from a Thumbtack spokesperson who refused a request for an on-camera interview.

The spokesperson said, "By signing up on Thumbtack, professionals agree to abide by the law, including licensing laws."

The company's terms of use say "Thumbtack does not make any attempt to… review or vet any pro services."

But on Thumbtack's advertisement, the testimonial style ad makes no mention of double checking anything.

When it comes to the "pros" on the site, even those labeled as "best of" or "top pros" in your area,

Thumbtack makes no promises about licensing, insurance or the identity of an advertiser.

When FOX 4 asked the state to check, they couldn't find proper licensing records for five of Thumbtack's top 20 HVAC contractors in North Texas.

And while Thumbtack says they randomly perform and note background checks and even allow pros to voluntarily submit to checks, they are not under any obligation to make sure the person you're connected with isn't a registered sex offender.

The million dollar guarantee Thumbtack does offer is protection from contractor negligence. The company says they'll even help provide dispute resolution between customers and pros through a third party.

"They're not saying hire an amateur. They're saying hire a pro," said the licensed contractor. "Well if you're a pro, then they should be licensed."

While it is illegal to even advertise HVAC services without a license in Texas, the state agency says there is nothing they can do for sites like Thumbtack.

"The Texas Department of License and Regulation has no authority over a marketing company such as Thumbtack," explained Susan Stanford with the state department.

Instead, Stanford says consumer education is key. A licensed contractor is required to have insurance, have a background check and be properly educated.

A Thumbtack spokesperson said if there was a specific company on their site which required investigation, they'd look into it.

FOX 4 sent Thumbtack the names of companies we found in violation of TDLR licensing and advertising rules. After weeks of prior communication, that was when they stopped responding.

You can search the TDLR website to check if a company is properly licensed.


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