Customers say a former Jerseyville resident took thousands of dollars from them in phony truck and heavy equipment sales deals and thousands more in an unrelated pet store scheme, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
The customers say Bret Michael Watkins took money for dump trucks and other merchandise he never delivered. He also allegedly used eBay to sell upscale pet clothing and supplies he did not own.
BBB advises caution when doing business with Watkins, 41, who may be operating as Watkins Services. He formerly worked as a manager of used vehicle sales at a St. Louis truck sales company.
The alleged victims said they lost amounts ranging from $7,000 to $35,000 in deals spanning several states and countries. Complaints about Watkins began to surface in 2010 and have continued recently.
BBB first became aware of allegations involving Watkins in May 2010, when a businessman from Panama claimed Watkins made off with $28,000 in commissions from the sale of eight dump trucks. In a recent email, the Panamanian businessman told BBB that he has been unable to locate Watkins, who still owes him the money.
Last October, a businessman from Dallas said he arranged to buy a 1986 Mack dump truck from Watkins for about $7,000. When his company went to pick up the truck, the person at the address had “never heard of Bret Watkins or the truck.” The businessman said Watkins refunded the money only after he badgered Watkins for three months, calling him numerous times and reporting the incident to St. John police and the island newspaper.
In March, a New Jersey businessman reported that he bought four used Mack dump trucks and a Caterpillar grader from Watkins in November for $35,000. The New Jersey man said he flew to the Virgin Islands to meet with Watkins, who reportedly told him the vehicles were in Texas and would be shipped to Florida for pickup. The businessman said Watkins never delivered the vehicles and has refused to refund the money.
The owner of a pet supply store in St. John, Virgin Islands, told BBB that Watkins and his wife came to the island last summer and entered into an agreement to buy the shop and its inventory for about $50,000. The owner said Watkins made a few monthly payments on the shop and then stopped paying. Earlier this year, the business owner said he discovered that Watkins had removed most of the inventory from the store and was selling it on eBay for about half its retail value.
Attempts to reach Watkins by phone or email have been unsuccessful.
BBB has been working with law enforcement on the case.
Watkins grew up in the Jerseyville area. It appears that in recent years, he has lived and worked in the St. Louis area and in Florida. At one point, he sold hot dogs in Florida under the business name Dogalicious.
Watkins Services was registered with the Missouri secretary of state in 2009, showing Bret Watkins as the owner. At that time, he reported an address on Briarbend Drive in St. Louis County.
BBB offers the following tips when doing business with a company or persons you do not know:
- Ask for references and contact them. Find out if the buyers were satisfied with their transactions.
- Be wary of anyone who hesitates to give you a business address or working contact information.
- Do not rely on descriptions or photographs when buying merchandise. Make sure you see the items you are buying and obtain proof that the seller is actually the owner.
- Pay with a credit card whenever possible in the event you need to challenge the charge.
- If you are purchasing a vehicle or other mechanical equipment, make sure it is inspected thoroughly before paying any money.
- Research the business carefully before making a purchase. Check out the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling (314) 645-3300.