By Sabina Mollot
Earlier this month, the NYPD sent out an email blast, noting that police had become aware of 50 complaints of theft that were traced back to Handy, an app that allows users to hire people who clean their apartments and do handyman type work. The cops added that there has been one arrest within the past month related to such an incident.
However, despite the memo being picked up by a few news outlets, including this one, thefts from apartments have apparently continued. Handy, like Uber, is a platform connecting workers to those in need of service, with customers listing dates and times they would like the work done and contractors responding to accept the job.
And, as one resident of Stuyvesant Town who utilized the company’s services on five occasions told us, she was definitely cleaned out when an estimated $5,000 in cash and jewelry went missing from her apartment.
The resident, Jennifer Kops, a mom of two, said after the first cleaner came and did a “fantastic job,” she didn’t have a problem letting in future cleaners (there were two others) into her home while she was at work.
“To me it seemed like a great plan; I come home to a nice smelling house.”
While she doesn’t know who burglarized her home on Friday, she believes someone associated with the app is behind the incident, saying that the company has her information on file, including the fact that she’d kept a key in a box by her door for the cleaners that was accessible through a code.
Only she, her children and Handy had that pin number, which has since been changed.
According to Kops, the family had been out since the morning, when she took her kids to school. It was when they came home from a dinner with her mother at around 7:15 p.m. when they saw that their apartment door had been left open.
While no one was in the apartment at the time, Kops said that after looking around, she realized numerous pieces of Tiffany jewelry and other valuable pieces, including a family heirloom bracelet with diamonds and pearls, were gone. Gone also was some emergency cash she’d kept hidden. The clearly determined perp even stole a pair of her daughter’s Ray-Ban sunglasses from her bedroom as well as her Tiffany heart bracelet.
“That’s shady,” Kops said on the theft of those items. “You know it’s a kids’ room.”
Kops said she does have insurance, but it doesn’t cover everything that was taken, especially since she’s unable to provide proof of purchase for some jewelry that was bought many years ago and in some cases given to her as gifts.
“Some of those things I got for my bat mitzvah and that was 25 years ago,” said Kops. “Tiffany only holds the receipts for seven years.” She said she knows she had the items very recently though because she’d gone through her accessories while planning what to wear to her daughter’s own bat mitzvah, which is happening in a week. Some jewelry was left behind with Kops suspecting the thief just took whatever seemed easiest to sell.
So far, Kops has been communicating with Handy via email with an employee who, she said, won’t reveal her last name and won’t speak with her on the phone. “The problem is they won’t call you back,” said Kops, who found a phone number on the website of the Bureau of Better Business. “They only communicate through email.”
She still doesn’t know if the company will be reimbursing her for the losses.
A phone number is not listed on Handy’s website, and the one available through the BBB was nonworking when a Town & Village reporter called it.
Kops said she first decided to use Handy after being handed a flier on the street that offered a deal to first-time subscribers to the app and those looking to use it as a regular service. “The price goes down by how often you have them come,” she explained.
As for whoever entered her home on Friday, Kops said she doesn’t know if it was a cleaner or possibly someone else associated with the company who has access to her information. She’s since reported the incident to the police as well as Stuyvesant Town Public Safety. While both departments have been helpful, she said, no surveillance footage has turned up capturing a suspect. She thinks this may have been because the person didn’t get into the elevator.
Asked about the incident, Marynia Kruk, a spokesperson for StuyTown Property Services, said, “PCVST Public Safety is aware of the incident and, as always, is assisting the NYPD with their investigation, as needed.”
After Friday, Kops immediately had the locks on her door changed. Kops said she stopped using Handy in December when she didn’t think a cleaner did that great of a job.
Town & Village emailed a request for comment on the reported thefts to Handy, sending it to an email address listed on the BBB site. In response, we got a call back from a company spokesperson, Jennifer Hanley. According to Hanley, incidents of theft are very rare, when considering that Handy has facilitated over a million cleanings.
“This is a rare occurrence,” she said. “When it does happen we take it very seriously. A police report has to be filed.”
As for how cleaners and other service people get vetted, checks are done by a third-party system. “In the rare instances when (theft) happens, they are people who do not have records,” she said.
When asked about those 50 complaints the police got, Hanley said this came as a surprise to Handy as well.
“We learned about it the same way everyone else did, when it was tweeted,” said Hanley. “For all the communications we have (with the NYPD), we did not know about that number. One complaint is too many, so it was pretty shocking.”
She added that she didn’t know enough about Kops’ situation to comment, but when asked about the lack of contact information on Handy’s website, Hanley denied that inability to communicate is a common customer complaint.
“In the whole time I’ve worked with them, which is over a year, I’ve never heard someone say I can’t get a human being on the phone. That was a problem at one time, but that has not been lately.” She added that when someone’s “in the system, there is a link to contact us, if you’re an active customer.”
Hanley also argued that part of the app’s appeal is that phone calls aren’t usually involved. “That’s why many people use it. They don’t want to call someone necessarily,” she said.
In related news, along with the 50 complaints the NYPD is aware of involving Handy (details of which were not revealed by police), incidents of theft, as well as improper billing, have been so frequent in Washington, D.C. that the attorney general there has sued the company. The suit, filed last September, also accuses Handy of deceptively enrolling customers into cleaning plans that bill them on a recurring basis.
On the thefts by contractors, a press release at the time issued by D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine states, “Handy claims that its cleaners are ‘trusted,’ ‘background- and identity-checked,’ ‘pre-screened’ and ‘top-quality,’ when, in fact, the company’s screening practices fail to identify individuals with criminal histories. Over a period of more than a year (between March 25, 2015 and June 3, 2016), the suit says, 24 District consumers filed police reports with the Metropolitan Police Department alleging that cleaners booked through Handy stole property from those consumers’ homes.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how much was stolen from Kops’s Stuyvesant Town apartment. It was a total of $5,000 in cash and jewelry, not $8,000.