‘No, Nicholas, this will not do. Pay me my money now!’ I was being pursued by a tricky and unassuming Russian developer. I met him via one of the popular platforms Airtasker.
In my naiveté, I approached a freelancer online to do a job. I wasn’t sure how much it would cost but the Airtasker app demanded I enter a price so that the freelancer and I could get talking. So, I put in a tentative $300 and figured we could negotiate the price in person. The title: ‘Quotation to build an app’.
The Russian and I met for a coffee. He spent the session highlighting his amazing accomplishments in being able to expose frauds, fix problems caused by incompetents, and drain every last dollar from the customer.
One example he gave was building a simple app for a florist to use with their customers. He built it and the florist called, alarmed, and said it worked only once. The Russian smiled: ‘They never specified they wanted more than one customer, Nicholas…so they had to pay more for that.’ His cheeky grin reminded me of some strange character in a Coen Brothers movie.
When I inquired what he knew about cloud technology, he scoffed at my ignorance. ‘Nicholas, why do you want cloud? When you can have…THIS!’ Waving a flash drive triumphantly, he declared: ‘I always know where my data is, Nicholas.’
Shortly after my meeting with the roguish Russian, I received an email summarising his price. He would charge me thousands. I had already decided to avoid him altogether by this point.
A week later, he had closed the task and requested the $300. Apparently, the money is kept in a sort of website limbo where he can’t touch it but nor can I until we agree the task is satisfactorily delivered.
‘You haven’t even started the task let alone finished it. All you have done has sent me a quote,’ I replied. ‘But, Nicholas I gave you the quote. Now you have confirmed it with this message in writing that I have done so. The task was for providing a quotation.’
‘There’s clearly a misunderstanding,’ I retorted.
‘No, Nicholas, there is no misunderstanding. I am here to help you and I can’t say a task is not complete when it is.’
So, now I was in a pickle. The Russian had used my words against me, taking my task literally and pulled one of his shifty moves on me.
Then the threats began. The Russian informed me that he had now stolen my idea and sold it to many customers. He had contacted my ‘boss’ too, apparently, and would get his ‘300 bucks’ no matter what.
Meanwhile, the little Airtasker ads with friendly faces and Airtasker logo t-shirts continued to pop up on my Facebook account, promising low costs, great quality and such easy, friendly service. Clearly Dr Duck’s experience was the exception.
I then transferred the online debate to Airtasker, who forwarded me on to another group Promise Pay—an ironic name for either me or the Russian, whoever might win. Apparently, the Russian was technically correct. No doubt he had entered into his own online debate with Promise Pay and bamboozled them like the unfortunate florist.
Months went by and Promise Pay sent me copy and paste responses, often with strange cut and paste errors. They refused to discuss the matter over the phone. Evidently, a conversation is a service they do not offer.
The policy would change from time to time too. One time it was a 24-hour countdown style manoeuvre where my funds would be sent to the Russian as the decision was final.
Then it was a more conciliatory, ‘We will only ever transfer when you are completely satisfied.’
Eventually, I took the fight to the Supreme Court of social media, Facebook, and posted my disagreeable experience so that the rest of the world could see.
My friends chuckled that this shifty Russian developer had manipulated and run rings around a registered psychologist. Again, it was starting to play out like a Coen Brothers film. All we needed was a chase scene and for the poor florist to make a cameo appearance in the second act with an axe.
But it all ended with a whimper and not a bang. After months of posts to the Airtasker page, I received the first non-copy and paste response in months from Promise Pay. ‘Nicholas, how much would you be willing to pay to have this settled?’
I was happy to settle. The Russian got some of his bucks and they were well earned too. A coffee conversation, an email, and countless threatening messages. If it was his real job, you’d give him a raise.
Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite