Lowes Steals Money From Old Lady's House, Threatens To Sue Her For Slander

Subcontractors working for Lowes stole money hidden in a reader’s elderly mother’s bedroom. When the mother complained, Lowes threatened to sue her for slander.

A cautionary tale for anyone with elderly family or friends, inside…

(Photo: rcrowley)

Heather writes:

Dear Consumerist

Longtime reader here with a story about a crime committed in my parents home this past Friday.

My parents have often used Lowes home installment services for little jobs around the house. This time it was a new front door installation, since the first one had warped over time and no longer closed properly. My Mother had gone to the bank that morning and withdrawn their weekly petty cash, gone home, and dispersed it throughout 3 different places in their bedroom. The workmen showed up later with the new door and started installation.

My Mother, being a trusting soul and not thinking about someone possibly rifling through her personal belongings, went next door to feed and care for my Grandfather. This was only a 30 minute trip. When she returned, the workers were done and had left, the new door now installed. This was all between 3 and 4pm

At 5pm, my Father comes home and goes to get his weekly allowance from one of the places they kept cash hidden in the bedroom. Surprisingly, $100 of the money was missing. My Mother then checked all of the cash, and in total $295 was missing from the home. Obviously, these guys had gone thoroughly through my parents things to find this money.

The Police were called, and they were told to call Lowes. That it was Lowes responsibility to press charges. So my mother calls them. And is told that they would have to press charges. Which is pretty difficult, as Lowes will not tell my parents the names of the Sub Contractors who came to her home. Lowes also informed my parents that unless fingerprints could be pulled, that if my parents pressed charges and could not prove guilt, they would be sued for slander.

My Mother has unfortunately given up without a fight. She says she doesn’t have the time or strength to fight over such a small amount of money. My Grandmother just passed away, and with all of the red tape they have had to go through, I think they are pretty discouraged.

Basically, I just want to put out the word that Lowes Sub Contracted a team of guys who were willing to sift through someones private home to take money. And now will not take responsibility for it, or even let my parents take the responsibility for themselves. They then said that my parents would be sued if definite proof could not be given. The sad thing is, they succeeded in discouraging my parents into giving up the fight. My Mother says they are just writing it off as a really expensive door. But to me, this means these guys will just go to another house and do the same thing again, and again, and again.

Thanks for the ear, and thanks for a great and informative website.

We wrote back, “That is incredibly messed up. If you’re interested we can try and help out. Sounds to us like a Lowes manager just badgering your mother. If corporate found out, he might be singing a different tune.”

Heather replied,

My Mother says she did write a letter to the Main office. But I don’t know if it will do much good. I do think that it needs to be at least brought to their attention via phone or otherwise. The main concern is that Lowes does not keep sending that particular crew to jobsites to repeat this crime.

Yes, I do think the Manager or whomever she spoke with was just trying to push her off. The whole “Slander” threat was a big tip off. I know that in a Slander case, you have to prove that the defendant did indeed lie. And there is no proof on either side right now. Regardless, since Lowes is the Contractor in this case, I think they are the responsible party.

Basically, they are not going to press charges. Mom is pretty discouraged. And to top it all off, my Grandmother died at the first of the month. And Social Security has been piling on the red tape. At the same time, she is caring for my Grandfather 24/7 who cannot talk clearly or walk on his own. My parents are just chalking it up to a really expensive door. But they feel violated. These guys really had to have gone through the whole room to find this money.

Just getting the word out for people to be cautious is the most important thing to me. Especially to the older crowd, like my parents, who are so trusting of people.

Sub-contractors ripping customers off by not completing work is one thing, but to outright rifle through an old lady’s bedroom and steal cash, that’s low, low low. The only thing lower than that would be if she called and complained and the manager threatened to sue her…

It’s unfortunate that Heather’s mother won’t be pressing charges. That’s really the only way to bring these scumbags to justice. Hopefully Lowes corporate will see the light and step up.

In the meantime, warn your elderly friends and family that if they have strangers come over to work on their house to not leave the house while they’re working on it.

Yet another story about home-improvement warehouse subcontractors behaving criminally. This industry needs to be reined in. — BEN POPKEN

Comments

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  1. bluegus32 says:

    Good tidbit for everyone to know — in, I believe, every state in the union you cannot be sued for slander for reporting anything to the police. (See for example, California Civil Code section 47.) Even if your accusation turns out to be completely false. Even if you lied about the acccusation. You still cannot be sued civilly for damages because all statements made to the legislature, to the police, to the courts, or any other governmental entity are strictly privileged. (Caveat: if you lie to these agencies, you can be found criminally liable but still not civilly liable.)

    This woman has nothing to fear. Lowe’s cannot sue her for this. Even if Lowe’s tried (which I promise you they never would) they would immediately get hit with attorneys’ fees and sanctions for filing a lawsuit in an attempt to stifle constitutionally protected speech (for example: in California it would be called a “SLAPP” suit, which stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”. It’s used to stop anyone who’s using the courts to stifle free speech.)

    Tell the manager to go shove it.

  2. esqdork says:

    I like to think that there is a special circle of hell rserved for people who steal from the elderly. It’s right between the circles reserved for those who steal from the mentally unfit (like the sleaze-jobs from Huling Bros. in Seattle) and those who steal from immigrants.

  3. kcs says:

    Isn’t it the state’s responsibility to press charges? My understanding is that private parties cannot press charges so to speak. The victim of a crime can refuse to cooperate with an investigation or refuse to testify against the perp, which may lead to the state deciding not to press charges, but the state actually does the pressing of the charges.

    I would suggest going down to the police department in person, filling out a report, and kindly insist that they open an investigation. I think Lowes may sing a different tune if they get a call from a police officer requesting the names of the subcontractors. While I doubt the police department is going to assemble a task force over a few hundred dollars, I would be surprised if they refused to investigate the matter, particularly since it involves a crime against the elderly.

  4. kcs says:

    Computer ate my comment.

    The state is who should be pressing charges, not Lowes or these folks. While a victim of a crime can decide not to cooperate with a criminal investigation or testify against the perp, which may lead to the state dropping charges, the state actually does the pressing of the charges. The state often will press charges against batterers, even if the victim spounse refuses to cooperate.

    I would suggest that they go down to the police station, file a report, and kindly insist that an investigation be opened. They should emphasize their concern that Lowes will continue to send these subcontractors out to peoples houses. Who knows what these guys would have done if the homeowners walked in on them as they were rifling through the bedroom.

    While I doubt the police will organize a task force to investigate this matter, I would be surprised if they didn’t at least make some phone calls to Lowes to get the subcontractors names. I bet the Lowes manager would be signing a different tune if he received a call from the police.

  5. critical_matt says:

    This may vary by state, but if you call the police to report a crime, they must either a) come out to the scene, or b) have you come in to file the report. They must take a report if you wish to file one. Why on Earth would they say Lowes has to file the report? Lowes wasn’t the victim. That doesn’t make any sense.

    It’s too late for this, but one other thing. What was the condition of their house when they returned? Was there a sign someone was rifling through their belongings? The perpetrator would not know where these things are and would have to search for them. There should be some evidence of the house being searched. Was anything else taken? Where was the jewelry? Was it in a different spot from the money? As an adjuster I always ask these things. If the thief is brazen enough to take the cash, they’ll take the jewels also.

  6. critical_matt says:

    Hit the submit button too early.

    The reason I ask about other items is that it is very odd if only cash is reported missing, especially if it’s hidden in 3 different spots. What are the chances they hit on all 3 spots and don’t find any other valuables. (Putting on devil’s advocate hat) The more I think about it, the more it doesn’t make sense. Only cash taken, when it would be obvious the sub contractor was the only one in the house. Hidden in 3 different spots, and all the money is found, nothing else missing. This would raise flags for me. Did she check her bank account to see if the money is still there? It sounds like she was very busy with the relatives. Is there any chance she thought she took out the money, but actually forgot to do it? I know it sounds far fetched, but it seems to me, more plausible than a thief finding 3 hiding spots for money and not taking anything else.

  7. wonderskunk says:

    Sadly, Heather’s parents decision to chalk it up as an expensive lesson learned may be wise. Outrageous as it may seem, Heather’s mother would have to prove that the money was there in the first place; that there is no possibility that she misplaced it or was mistaken about the amounts, and that would be next to impossible. It boils down to her word against the subcontractor’s. Heather’s mother is dealing with both grief from the loss of her mother ( or mother-in-law), and heavy elder-care responsibilities. There is only so much stress anybody can take.

  8. RumorsDaily says:

    How could it possibly be Lowe’s responsibility to press charges? The thieves didn’t do anything to Lowe’s.

  9. wonderskunk says:

    @critical_matt
    Subcontractors, plural, a crew, more than one guy. Which is perhaps why only cash was taken. If it was just one rotten apple in the crew, and the rest of the guys are honest, the thief would not want the rest of the crew to catch him with anything like obviously stolen jewelry in his possession. Cash, on the other hand, is easily explained. Furthermore, if Heather’s mother, or another family member had returned before the crew left,realized that things were missing and called police… again cash is easily explainable.

  10. medalian1 says:

    Good luck proving that they stole it. Why on earth would anyone trust someone in their home? I always keep an eye on people working in my home.

  11. laughingdove says:

    Hey guys, this is my story concerning my parents. To answer some of the above questions:

    1)The police did come out to their house and filed a report. But they told my parents that they could not press charges, that Lowes as the acting Contractor would have to do that.

    2)The room was not rifled through, in fact the money was not discovered missing until my Father pulled out his allowance from it’s hiding place and only found $35 of the total $135. Apparently they took only the large bills and left small amounts, by my conjecture, to delay descovery of the theft.

    3)I have been told that most thieves will only take cash, and leave valubles like jewelry alone because cash is untracable. Jewelry is alot easier to trace via pawn shops etc. Cash is just easier to make dissapear.

    4)In my Mom’s defense, she is still pretty sound of mind and knew exactly what amount of money was there and that it had been distributed only just before the guys came to fix the door. She has handled the family finances for the last 40 years.

    I wish I could escalate this myself, but it is ultimately up to them to do so. Seeing as this is their first time as a victim of a theft, I think that they feel fortunate it was not more money or my Mom’s jewelry and other valubles.

  12. Flynn says:

    The bigger thing that smells fishy here is the police maintaining that you can’t press charges. So, let’s see. Scenario a) subcontractors come to your house, and in the process of doing the work, steal some money. Scenario b) guys find open door, walk into house, and steal same money. For some reason, in a), you can’t press charges against the guys, but in b) you can? What does their employment status have to do with the fact that they stole something? I always thought that law was set up so that the victim presses charges.

    What state did this occur in?

  13. planetdaddy says:

    Here are the rules for working in my home. They are like my service company customer Bill of Rights.

    1. You have to produce a company ID of some kind. Without one you won’t be coming in my home.

    2. You have to produce a drivers license of which I record the information for later reference if needed. Without it you won’t be coming in my home.

    3. You CANNOT use my bathroom, or yard to take care of your bodily functions. If you didn’t go before you got here then that is your problem.

    4. You CANNOT have a drink of water. If you like you may use the hose outside. Otherwise I will let you know when Unicef gets into the beverage business.

    5. You will clean up your mess completely. Even if you have to return the next day I will not be tripping over your shit.

    6. When you leave your toolboxes or whatever you bring in my home is subject to search. If you don’t want to then a call will be made to the police as you have just put yourself under suspicion of theft.

    7. If you have to make a phone call use your own phone and return to your service van/truck to make it.

    8. You do not leave until I have inspected the work and told you that you may do so.

    9. If you brought your lunch you are not laying around in my frontyard to eat. Get in your service van or go to the park.

    10. YOU WILL NEVER BE ALLOWED IN MY HOME ALONE. DON’T ASK DON’T SUGGEST IT!

    I work in the service industry and I consider all of these to be part of running a professional business. I would be willing to do any of these things on customer request. These are all in response to problems I have had with service people over the years. When I set an appointment I make sure that the person I speak with is aware of these conditions so there are no surprises. If you are unwilling to submit to these demands then you aren’t coming into my home,or you will be asked to leave never to return.

  14. @Ingen Angiven: And why is that? Lowes hired them. Lowes has a responsibility to the end customer. The fact that they are not doing background checks on the people who they are sending to people’s homes is very questionable.

  15. wonderskunk says:

    @tamar
    But do we know for a fact that Lowe’s didn’t check? The creep might never have been convicted, or even charged with anything.

  16. critical_matt says:

    Well, if they are a subcontractor hired by Lowes, they ARE Lowes. Unfortunately, the amount taken is too little to bother suing anyone over. It stinks.

  17. MonsieurBon says:

    People steal. My dad’s tools went missing left and right whenever we’d have a contractor in the house. He put a lock on his toolchests and that put an end to it.

  18. bearymore says:

    The idea that Lowes would have to press charges makes no sense. The subcontractors did not steal from Lowes, they stole from the customer. In fact, it would make more sense if the police had asked the lady if she wanted to press charges AGAINST Lowes as they were the ones responsible for sending the subcontractors to the house. It’s the same as if Tony Soprano sent some thugs disguised as workmen to trash the place. Would Tony have to press charges against his own minions??

  19. infinitysnake says:

    The police are defiunitely wrong on this account- I would suggest going directly to the DA’s office, and be sure to mention the police informed the victim that the perpetrator must pursue charges- hopefully, they’ll set them straight.

  20. VexedScotsman says:

    How do you know it was the sub contractors? If you can’t prove to Lowe’s it was them, couldn’t it have been someone else?

    Also, If I was Lowe’s and someone pressed charges against the company and had nothing to prove it, I’d sue for the slander.

  21. jkfan87 says:

    And of course, there is EVEDINCE that your elderly mother didn’t just misplace it? Alzheimers is a bitch.

  22. jkfan87 says:

    Is there ANY evidence? I don’t need a lot. Just SOMETHING to back up even one of these accusations? For example, why DIDN’T she have the hiding places dusted for fingerprints? Obviously if this story had any truth to it, there shoud only be hers and her husband’s fingerprints on the hiding spots. So it would be VERY easy to prove that ssomeone else was snooping.

    Wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to extort money from a major corporation. And sure as hel wouldn’t be the first time that Consumerist.com fell for the scam.

  23. Jesse in Japan says:

    Although they can’t sue you for slander for pressing criminal charges, they probably can sue you for slander for writing an account of what happened, but they would need to show that you knowingly fabricated the account. Which is about as difficult to prove as the absence of a certain amount of money from a larger pile of money.

  24. As a law professor, I make the following additional suggestion: If there’s a law school in your parents’ area, contact it. More than likely, it has a clinical department where students assist local residents on legal issues. It might be very educational for the students, and helpful for your parents, to see if the school will take on the process of working out the criminal law issues (and reassuring your parents on their likely protection from things like slander).

    Good luck. {Prof. Jonathan}

  25. Paul D says:

    It’s my understanding that these guys were installing a new front door. Rifling around in a bedroom (which is not likely to be the location of the front freakin’ door) is scummy in the extreme.

    However, all accusations and asshole-ish response from Lowe’s aside… there’s no way I would leave the house even for a minute if a service person (or persons) were there doing work.

    Basically, these assholes shouldn’t have stolen her cash, but if she hadn’t left the house in the first place this wouldn’t have happened. As an analogy, if you leave cash on the front seat of your car with the doors unlocked, yeah it’s wrong for someone to steal it, but it was also a very stupid thing for you to do.

  26. JeremyJX says:

    I think clearly the option here is to shame Lowe’s into giving your mother store credit in the amount that was lost in the name of good PR. In the long run it wouldn’t cost Lowe’s the full amount of what was lost, they at least make an attempt to make amends, and it would just be the “right” thing to do.

    This stinks to high heaven of some local manager who is pushing some pinhead policy without thinking about the bigger ramifications of how his actions reflect on his company, not to mention his position.

    I say you post the name of the local manager that you spoke to and the phone number of the store and we just bombard this guy with outpouring of e-Support.

    I’m a journalist – though not one that generally does human interest or consumer stories, but I’d be willing to stretch the truth of my role at my publication just to see them squirm into some sort of action.

  27. Terminixsux says:

    Man, I’d hate to be a contractor working for some of you. While I understand trust must be earned, when I work with a contractor, I want to feel like a partner. This is one reason I’d never use Lowes or HD for such services. Why should they care about a small number of disgruntled customers? It won’t destroy their business. Alternatively, individual contractors live on their reputations.

    I’msorry about your Grandmother. Getting ripped off sucks, but chalking it up and moving on is probably the best solution,as continuingt to pursue this over such a small amount of money just prolongs the heartache of the entire mess. Live, learn and move on…

  28. Elaine Chow says:

    @planetdaddy: Wow planetdaddy, while a lot of the rules make sense, some of them just seem a little cruel.

    I don’t have a yard, but I’ve never had a problem letting a service person use my restroom (even if it is a little gross that they’d take a crap in there.)

    And really, what do you lose by giving the contractor a drink of water? If they’re building something, it’s thirsty work!

    Not all contractors are great and I understand that you’re paying for their services, but treating them like they’re intruders on your property when they came to do service work seems like it’ll backfire at some point in time.

  29. AcidReign says:

    …..Never, ever let a contractor work at your place without being there, and watching them! I get nervous when they stop and look at my rack of guitars and keyboards. That’s why I make sure they also see that I’ve got a nice, shiny black Remington-1100 riot gun and a box of shells on my bedside table! In case they’re casing the joint…

  30. Meza44 says:

    In terms of who is responsible, Lowe’s is responsible. Your parents had the contract with Lowe’s not the sub contractor. To resolve it your parents should take them to small claims court. The burden of proof is less than criminal court. If Lowe’s wants to recover there money, if your parents, win then Lowe’s will go after the sub contractor.

  31. Icon says:

    It all boils down to … there is no witnesses that saw them take any money. A trip to court would be a waste of time and money.
    If someone publicly said Lowes hired people who steal, yes, they could be sued for slander.
    The most that can be done, is the police can get then names of the contractors and talk to them, and check their background. If the contractors deny stealing the money, nothing can be done.

  32. NotJustOneVoice says:

    Lowes is soon to be exposed in a very large way for similar situations. Any one that has had a problem with Lowes is encouraged to send us a fax at 253 277-1499 describing your situation. Be sure to include your email or some way to get in touch.

  33. jamesj says:

    I got a problem…. I am a Sub contractor for lowes, (We Do have BackGround Checks!) anyway My helper was just accused of taking a elderly ladies purse. I was there and I know he didnt do it. The lady was watching us the whole time her door was open! What do I do????? Lowes is talking about no longer using me after 7 yrs because of this FALSE CLAIM. What do I do?