Hiring someone off a service app like Handy? Know how to protect yourself from theft and fraud.


Turns out getting clean can get pretty dirty. Dozens of customers who used the app Handy — a cleaning and handyman service app —  say they were robbed last year.

"In 2016, there were over 50 crimes reported to the NYPD related to theft of property after internet-based company Handy.com was contracted by NYC residents," NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau wrote in a statement emailed to DNA Info. "In the past month, a Handy employee was arrested for such incident," the bureau added. 

The NYPD declined Mic's request for comment. But in July 2016, a Handy cleaner was accused of stealing a woman's Prada and Chanel handbags, worth a total of nearly $8,000, according to a police report obtained by DNA Info

Handy spokeswoman Jennifer Hanley told the news outlet that the company successfully completed 300,000 jobs in New York in 2016. Handy did not respond to Mic's interview request by the time of this story's publication.


Despite the admittedly low reported theft rate, the story serves as a cautionary tale — for not just Handy users but anyone hiring a stranger off an app, like TaskRabbit and other services.

If you'd prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid becoming one of the unlucky, here are three steps you can take to protect yourself, your home and all your worldly possessions.

1. Find out who, exactly, you're hiring.

You already know you need to secure your personal data (to protect from identity theft, among other digital scams) — but the good news is that the same ease of access to information that sometimes leaves you vulnerable makes it surprisingly easy to identify strangers' background details, too.

While gig economy apps like Handy rarely give a contractor's full name, you usually see their first name and the initial of their last name — and sometimes they're even "LinkedIn verified" on apps like TaskRabbit. 

screenshot/iTunes app store

But don't assume anything: Be a sleuth. Do some internet stalking. Use Google reverse image search. If a person's first name and last initial are relatively unique or unusual, Google search may sometimes auto-fill the rest, particularly if you type in other details like the name of your city.

Between profile pictures of the contractors in the app you're using and most of their name, together with a rough idea of their age and location, you can sometimes figure out who the person is.

While companies very often do employee background checks — Handy claims on its website that all workers are screened and background checked — once you find your contractor's name, you should do a background check of your own too.

You can even check to see someone's criminal record.


2. Be there when they are — either physically or virtually.

If you've booked a cleaner or a handyman or anyone to come over to your home, make a point of being there to keep an eye on things; maybe work from home that day — or ask your roommate or freelance friend to chill on your sofa and work or watch Judge Judy while the contractor is there. 

And if you really can't be there and you can't find anyone who will?

Get yourself a nanny cam. They sell for as little as $30 these days; you might be surprised at what you discover happens when you aren't there.


3. Secure your sh*t.

It goes without saying that you shouldn't leave your laptop lying around or your fancy earrings on the bathroom counter when you have workers in the house. At the very least, keep cash and other valuables out of sight by putting them in a drawer or in the back of your closet.

But that's just the start.

When it comes to sensitive documents — like your passport, social security card, bank statements, even your W-2 forms — physically lock them away. Get a safe, for as little as fifty bucks, and get in the habit of keeping Great Aunt Jenny's diamonds, along with your important papers, in there.

Any papers with identifying details can make you vulnerable to fraud like tax identity theft — which is a real thing. Thieves steal your tax refund, or worse.

If the safe sounds too pricey, get crafty.

Opt for tools like seal tape, which allows you to see if something taped together has been tampered with, or a laptop lock.

Lastly, consider renters' insurance, which can go for as little as $15 a month.

Sign up for The Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life. Additionally, for all your burning money questions, check out Mic’s creditsavingscareerinvesting and health care hubs for more information — that pays off.