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SALVAGE DEAL WAS A CLUNKER

Money's tight. And countless folks are trying to make ends meet - heck, many people would love to just have ends, whether they meet or not.

So it was with Tina Johns of Spring Hill. The 38-year-old offered her 1998 Pontiac Sunfire to Independent Salvage, a St. Petersburg company that buys "junk cars" or unwanted used cars.

Johns figured her car with a blown head gasket fit the description. And Independent Salvage agreed to pay her $250. Since then, five weeks have passed and the check the company gave Johns bounced.

"I keep getting them telling me they're bringing me the cash," Johns said. "I don't want anybody else to be in this position.

Too late. It's not the first time Independent Salvage has been accused of leaving its customers empty-handed.

The Better Business Bureau has a handful of similar complaints about the company, which incorporated in March. The BBB gave the company an F rating.

The Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services also has a handful of complaints against the company.

An employee who answered the phone at the company office acknowledged the money owed to Johns, but said the owner, Scott Sands, would have to speak to the issue and the problems the company has had lately.

It appears that just as everyday folks are trying to make ends meet, so is Independent Salvage.

Sands didn't respond to requests to be interviewed.

John Zajac, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau, said in the complaints his organization has received about Independent Salvage, they all related to the business' failure to pay customers who sold it their vehicles.

Three cases have been resolved, Zajac said, but of late, the company has not responded to the BBB's inquiries and a former employee has reported the company for its practices.

"The problem is consumers are having issues receiving that money," Zajac said. He said those who complained generally were owed $200 to $300.

By keeping the cars and not paying the money, Independent Salvage could open itself to potential criminal charges for theft.

So here's the Edge:

- Request cash payment. For the amounts Independent Salvage was paying for the junk cars, consumers should seek payment in cash, in particular because it's a business. If the business can't pay $200 to $300 in cash upon receipt of the car, the consumer should probably look elsewhere.

- File a police report. If the company has your property, but doesn't compensate you, you might have a theft case. Zajac suggests consumers work with the company to resolve the matter, but if that isn't working, seek help from consumer protection and law enforcement agencies.

- Do your homework. Often when we're desperate, rushing and need something in a hurry, we don't do our due diligence in checking out businesses before contracting with them.

Ivan Penn can be reached atipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter attwitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

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