People sometimes make you promises they can't — or won't — keep, leaving you with the short end of the stick. We've all made this error once or twice, but we reserve a special name for the people who don't follow through as a matter of habit: deadbeats. It's easy to get screwed by a deadbeat, but with some flexible ethics and a little creativity you can easily turn the tables back to your favour.The Dark Side Disclaimer All posts that belong to the Dark Side are going to feature some ideas that might be a little evil or at least require some flexible ethics. Some things will be downright horrible, and you should not do them, but are either for your information or simply for the point of interest (and will be noted as such). Your judgment and actions are your own, so think before you do anything you read here and only use your dark side for good.
Deadbeats don't always mean to be bad. Many enter into a promise with the best of intentions. They want to live up to their promise, but they find reasons why they can't. Life can get in the way on occasion, so it's important to be sympathetic from time to time, but you know you're dealing with a deadbeat when life is always in their way and they render themselves completely useless. When this is the case, they just really need a kick in the butt to let them know you're not going to take it lying down. Often, this means resorting to blackmail and employing clever tricks. Here are a few examples.
Deadbeats and Online Sales
If you've sold a few things on eBay, you've probably run into a deadbeat bidder. This is a person who bids and wins the item you're selling and then doesn't pay for it. This is often simply an inconvenience and eBay will provide you — after much waiting — a refund for your auction fees. There are occasions, however, where you're selling an item with a time limit. A while ago there was a story on Reddit about a clever eBay seller called BadgetMatt. Matt had tickets to a sporting event that he couldn't attend and decided to sell them online. The winner of the auction refused to pay, leaving him with tickets he no longer had time to sell. He tried contacting the losing bidders but they weren't interested. Rather than giving up and wasting the tickets, Matt concocted a plan:
I created a new eBay account, "Payback" we'll call it, and sent her a message: "Hi there, I noticed you won an auction for 4 [sporting event]tickets. I meant to bid on these but couldn't get to a computer. I wanted to take my son and dad and would be willing to give you $US1,000 for the tickets. I imagine that you've already made plans to attend, but I figured it was worth a shot."
The woman agreed to sell his fake account the tickets for $US1100 and paid Matt for the auction. Matt, of course, did not re-purchase the tickets with his fake account and got the money he was promised. Very clever.
Deadbeats in Business
If you've ever entered into a contract with another human being, or asked someone for help, at some point you've likely encountered somebody who hasn't followed through. It can be very frustrating to put your trust in somebody who leaves you hanging, especially when there's money involved, but there's an often unused solution: blackmail.
Mike, a Lifehacker reader, wrote in to share a story of how he ended up with a deadbeat web developer and solved the problem with this clever and legal trick:
We hired a coder to work with us on an online app and paid her in pieces, in advance, as we moved through the process. At one point she just stalled out, avoided us and we were left a couple steps away from deployment.
Although she designed websites for a living, she had failed to buy her own name domain. So I did. Bought www.hername.com and then put up a site detailing how she did business, along with links to some business reviews I posted about her on Yelp, etc.
24 hours after the site went live she called and claimed I was ruining her business. Having explained that ruining her business was exactly what I was trying to do, I suggested she finish the job we'd paid her for.
She sent me developments each day and I changed the hername.com site to redirect to her business site. We had one hiccup for a couple days where I turned the evil site back on. She finished our work 48 hours later.
I still own her name, as she had agreed to provide corrections and minor adjustments for "as long as you need it."
Darned effective. Cost me $US7.95. And completely legal.
It all comes down to the same question: what does the person have to lose? With Mike's deadbeat developer, it was her reputation. With Matt's deadbeat bidder, it was nothing at all so he created a situation where she could lose out on a lot of money. The point is, so long as you can identify what can be lost and find a means to take it away, you can turn the tables in your favour and get what you were promised outright.
Often the best solution to any problem is eliminating the problem before it starts. You can't always do this, but if you can identify a deadbeat before you involve yourself with them, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. Here are a few ways to keep these troublemakers out of your life.
Matt's eBay solution was very clever, but there is a simple way to avoid deadbeats in online auctions. From the many years I sold on eBay, I noticed that deadbeat bidders were most often bidders with nothing to lose. What could you possibly have to lose on eBay? Your reputation. If you want to be particularly cautious, you can add a note to your auctions that say you will remove any bidders with less than a certain number of feedback stars. People who have plenty of positive feedback don't want that tarnished by a sale going south, as they've earned their high marks, so they're a lot less likely to leaving you hanging after winning the auction. If you don't want to be quite that strict — as being strict means fewer bids — you can simply ask bidders with a low number of stars (five or less was my threshold) to contact you and introduce themselves if they do not want to be removed from the auction. If you explain nicely that this is to avoid deadbeat bidders, people will understand and be happy to help if they're good. Deadbeats generally won't put in the effort. This is a trick that worked well for me for many years.
If you're dealing with deadbeats in more complex situations where you're already communicating, there aren't any simple tricks beyond following your own intuition. Generally you have to get burned once or twice before you start to notice any behavioural patterns, but remaining skeptical about certain things can help. If you ask someone for help and they're eager to promise it, that's often a bad sign. Someone who manages their time well and knows how to get things done will rarely agree to terms outright without first understanding the specifics. If they're not thinking through the agreement, that's an easy way for problems to come up. This is something you can notice and catch preemptively.
You can't always identify a deadbeat ahead of time, but that's OK. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, you've always got evil on your side.