HOUSTON, TX - Could your housekeeper be cleaning you out? It happened to a Houston woman-- her identity, stolen, by a couple of "dirty maids."
Now, two years later--she's got big tax troubles, over something she didn't do.
Shannon Lackey hired them to clean her house. “I said, wonderful job and then asked them to come back,” Lackey said. But Lackey had no idea her housekeepers were sweeping up more than dust.
“They were going around and cleaning people's houses and helping themselves to the identity and checks of their unsuspecting victims who thought they were just getting their house cleaned,” Assistant DA Mike Elliot said.
Joyce Butler and Harrison Johnson are the "dirty maids" who owned a company they called Afford-A-Maid. Butler and Johnson both pled guilty and were convicted of felony theft and money laundering. Johnson's now doing 18 months in a Texas state jail. Butler got 4 years probation, with 90 days in jail.
Lackey felt relief. “I thought it was behind me,” Lackey said. But she got the phone call last week from the IRS saying she has a $21,000 tax lien. Someone had filed a phony tax return-- in her name—and at the same time her housekeepers were busy doing their dirty deeds..
No one knows for sure who's behind that bogus tax return, but one thing is for sure: Lackey's troubles are far from over. “I just balled. I just balled! I thought it was over with,” she said.
And ironically, Butler still works as a maid but cleaning commercial businesses instead of homes.
Lessons To Be Learned
1. Just because someone calls themselves a "company" doesn't mean that they're really a company. Anybody can create a professional sounding business name. It takes about five seconds and zero dollars. Don't be fooled.
2. Do some research on your new cleaning company. Ask for references. Ask for proof of insurance. Ask for proof of the bond. And don't just hire someone because they're affordable. Would you hire a dentist simply because he's affordable? Better yet, would you let a dentist use a needle in your mouth if his business name was Afford-A-Dentist?
3. If you've hired a real cleaning company, make them prove to you that their employees are safe and secure. No reputable cleaning company will hire anyone that has a criminal background. And if you're bound and determined to hire an individual, do your own nationwide criminal background search. It costs about $50, but it could save you lots of heartache and money down the road. In this particular case, a simple background check would have shown that one of the maids had been an outstanding warrant for credit card abuse!
4. In a nutshell, treat your house the same way you treat everything else. Saving a few bucks is important - especially in today's economy. But seriously, would you hire just anyone to file your taxes? Would you hire just anyone to photograph your wedding? Would you hire just anyone to clean your teeth? Then why would you hire just anyone to clean your house?
Yes, we clean your toilets. And yes, we scrub your baseboards on our hands and knees. But that doesn't mean you should expect any less professionalism from us as you do from your accountant or dentist. In the end, you're still a customer. And no matter if we cleaning your kitchen sink or filing your taxes, it's our job to make you happy.
Start acting like a customer and these kind of news clippings will disappear.