Unscrupulous Clients

Since starting up Black Dog here in the Branson Tri-Lakes area I have run into many horror stories of people that had problems with the web developer charged with building their website.  Almost universally, these problems have included the website developer registering the client’s domain in their name. By doing this, the developer owns the name, not the clients. I have always walked my clients through the process of registering their domain and obtaining their hosting account. I don’t “markup” these items as many of these developers do. The problem actually rears it’s ugly head when the client finds they can’t get timely updates and finds someone else to do the updates. They quickly find that the developer is in the drivers seat and they have to start all over with their website. It’s really sort of sad.

I could go on and on, but I am getting off on a tangent and off topic. This article is about a first that I have encountered, an unscrupulous client. After all of my years developing websites and trying to make my clients feel they have been treated honestly and fairly, I am the one now getting the shaft.

In 2012, I helped a local real estate broker get their website up and running. The basic design was already done but the developer (not really a developer but a friend of a friend that wanted to learn) quickly got in over their head on the project. I agreed to help them and quoted a fair price. Even though the price was very fair the client wanted to negotiate so I eventually knocked off $150 from the price, making it one heck of a deal for the client, but affording very little profit for my time, and went to work. Over the next few weeks, I learned some very valuable lessons regarding regarding working with difficult people, but finally succeeded getting the website completed.

Now, fast forward about a year and this client tells me that she wanted some changes to her website and contracted with a student who was going to make an “exciting redesign” of her site. I told her in that exchange that it is good to periodically refresh the look and content of a website. And, since the original design (by the previous “developer”) was lacking in a lot of ways I felt that it would be a good thing. Personally, I was glad that she had found someone else to do the work so I would not be forced to relearn the lesson I had learned the year before.

Anyway, after a few weeks, I received an urgent telephone call wanting FTP login information for her new developer so he could upload the changes. I provided them and after a couple of days checked the website to see the changes that had been made. The actual changes to the overall design were minimal, except for the addition of pretty cool script that allowed the visitor to view a Google map view (aerial photo) of the local area and click the area the potential real estate buyer was interested in. I was pretty impressed with the look and operation of the script and thought this “teenage student” might have a bright future ahead of him as a web developer. But, my being impressed were quickly dashed when I right clicked on the page and inspected the code and finding  that the script had been pirated (stolen) from a real estate website in Hawaii, named HawaiiLife.com. Those that watch HGTV might recognize the website from the show named Hawaii Life. Their name, and some links, were scattered all through the code making it obvious that the script was theirs but a quick trip to their website confirmed that this very impressive script was still in operation on their website.

I initially didn’t think much about it except that the local real estate agent had a lapse in her professional ethics. But, something else I noticed was that the website still had the “Website by Black Dog Web Design” linked to the bottom of each page and my business name was also in the author metadata. After “sleeping on it”, checked the website again and also found a background photo on one of the script’s pages that looked familiar. It was a photo that was entered in a local photo contest from an entity (that shall remain anonymous) that I am involved with – I built, and maintain, their website. In fact, I also know the photographer. Upon inspecting the code of that page I found that they were actually loading the photo from it’s original location on the other server, which is something else that should never be done without permission.

I contact the real estate agent, and her developer, by email, informing them that they were using a pirated script and asked that my business’ name be removed from her site so I did not inherit any of the legal liability. She responded by saying that there were no pirated scripts on her site and telling me that she had permission from a “government agency” to use the script. This claim was so ridiculous I almost fell out of my chair as the real estate agent had no clue what a script was, much less where she could get a license for one. I asked again that all references to Black Dog Web Design be removed with no response whatsoever.

Several weeks later I sent another email requesting that my name be removed before approaching the Board of Realtors, copying the email to the developer. He almost immediately contacted me back that he had been away at school and did not know that he had done anything wrong and wanted to make it right. I told him how to remove all of my information and I am confident that he was planning on doing it. He had, after all, immediately disabled the pirated script from the website. The next morning, however, I received a couple of emails from the real estate agent saying that my requesting the removal of my name from her website was “sour grapes” because I felt “hurt” and that she did not know that it would make me “angry and vengeful”. She also asked me to stop copying the developer on the emails. She wanted me to come to her office and explain it all in detail and she would relay it to him. Not being confident in her ability to relay technical information to another I declined. After sending an email with much of our conversation to a third party, I assume in hopes that it would cause trouble for me, she refused to make any changes until I met her in her office, which I have also declined.

So, I am now forced to file a complaint with the board of realtors to try and get my name removed from the website of an unethical and unprofessional real estate agent that is either too stubborn or ignorant of the law to simply direct the developer to remove my name from the website. This has certainly been a lesson for me. While we may want to believe that most local business men and women are ethical and honest, they clearly are not. I will now forever screen my prospective clients a little closer before agreeing to build a website. I should have listened to the little voice in my ear that kept telling me not to take on this project.

If you have taken a link from a real estate agency website to get to this website, I hope you listen to the little voices that talk to you….