Caveat Emptor

By | April 3, 2013

You know how, when you read books or articles about personal finance, it always seems like they’re Chicken Little and the sky is falling? Do this, don’t do that, check out references, withhold final payment until the work is complete, and all that?

It’s good advice.

We learned that to our sorrow last January when my step-daughters’ orthodontist abruptly closed up shop and skipped town, with his fees paid in advance and the girls only 6 months into treatment. There we were, two girls with braces on their teeth, monthly payments to a finance company for treatment they weren’t getting, and looking at taking on yet another orthodontist payment for almost the same amount as the original guy. What can I say? Education can be very expensive, particularly in the School of Hard Knocks.

It’s not like we were irresponsible. We had asked around about this guy, and got generally good reviews from other parents whose kids had braces. And we know that, generally speaking, personal references are the best. But they’re not the only thing.

Turns out, this guy had been convicted of Grand Theft just a few months before the girls began treatment, and was on three years probation for that. His house in a tony neighborhood of Orange County had been foreclosed and sold at a sheriff’s sale, and he had numerous tax liens, judgments from about 9 civil suits, and a number of small claims cases against him. The guy wasn’t even a credentialed orthodontist, just a general practice DDS. We could have found all this out by spending 10 minutes on the internet. But at the time, it never occurred to us to do that. Who would ever think their doctor would do something like that?

We got lucky. Or perhaps it would be better to say, we were blessed. We found a really great, credentialed orthodontist for the girls, Dr. Howard Nakamura. (Yes, we checked him out thoroughly!) He’s a true professional and was extremely understanding of our situation. He actually does the orthodontic work himself, rather than “supervising” a bunch of dental assistants in assembly line fashion. We feel much better with the girls going to him. In addition, our credit card company, after numerous letters back and forth, finally agreed to credit our account. In 30 years, it’s the only time I’ve ever taken advantage of that “dispute” clause in the fine print of the credit card agreement. Like I said, we were blessed. We got a do-over and learned a valuable lesson at minimal financial cost.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

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