Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Air Conditioner Duct Cleaning Scam Targets Seniors

With temperatures in the 90s, Collier County residents are turning on their air conditioners -- and deputies are turning up the heat on unscrupulous air duct cleaning companies.

Ads offering a low price on air duct cleaning can seem like a great deal with minimal risk. And while most air duct cleaning companies are legitimate, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office cautions the community to beware of companies that use less-than-reputable tactics.

CCSO is investigating complaints involving elderly homeowners who claim they were scammed by companies that specialized in determining the health of a home environment for $49.95. In all of the cases, a technician came to the house, examined the air vents and then determined the homeowner had the kind of mold in the air conditioner that posed an immediate danger to their health.

The technician offered to clean the ducts for several thousand dollars and asked for immediate payment in the form of a check made payable to the technician.

In one of the cases, the technician asked the homeowners to sit outside their home while he and two other technicians were inside unsupervised allegedly cleaning out the ducts. After the technicians left, the victims became suspicious and called other reputable cleaning companies for a second opinion and learned the company they hired was a fraud.

When looking for a professional to clean out air ducts, CCSO recommends consumers:

* Check out the company first. Before setting up a visit, confirm whether the company or person you are considering hiring to perform work is licensed in Florida by going online to www.myfloridalicense.com. You can also check with your Better Business Bureau. Ideally, the business will be accredited by BBB or at least have a good rating. Pay close attention to the name of the business you're researching because unscrupulous outfits often choose a name that is similar to an existing business that has a solid reputation. To check out a business' Reliability Report or locate a BBB Accredited duct cleaner visit http://www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/

* Get a second opinion. If the duct cleaner discovers that you have a mold problem, get a second opinion. Mold remediation can cost thousands of dollars so you'll want expert advice on how to take care of it.

* Be wary of anyone requiring immediate payment. Being asked to pay in cash or by check made payable to the service technician who conducts the work should be a red flag. Purchases made by credit card will usually allow the consumer to dispute the charges and therefore offers the most protection.

* Look for the fine print. Ads and contracts may contain fine print which the business might think will absolve them from honoring their advertised price. Always ask plenty of questions and get to the bottom line of what it's going to cost you, before you sign on the dotted line.

* Check a company’s complaint history by contacting your Better Business Bureau, or by visiting http://www.800helpfla.com/, or by calling 1.800.HELP.FLA.

If you believe you have been scammed, notify CCSO at 239.252.9300.