CONSUMER FORUM

Chimney cleaning scam earns raspberry from consumer organization

Posted Jan. 01, 2012, at 8:12 p.m.

Here is what we would like to say to the folks who have been running around southern Maine in recent days, pretending to be chimney cleaners but who really are scam artists: “Pfffffth!”

That’s a raspberry, New York style, for trying to relieve our neighbors to the south of their hard-earned dollars. We give them a double raspberry for offering a so-called discount for their scheme, and a triple for the “senior discount.”

If you missed the news item, it related to home visits — some preceded by a phone call — offering to clean a resident’s chimney for a fee. One woman told a television reporter she was visited by two men, one of whom stayed inside her home while the other went to the roof. When he came down a few minutes later, he had distressing news.

Her chimney liner was shot, the man reported, and it was unsafe to use the furnace again until a new liner was installed. The two of them could do the work right then, they assured her. The cost estimate: a mere $1,500.

The woman called her son, who told his mom to send the men packing, which she did. Most of the home visits (we’re happy to report) had similar endings. We’re not aware of anyone having been taken by these itinerant chimney lining scaremongers; however, many ripoffs are not reported, simply because victims are ashamed or embarrassed.

The roving workers claimed to work for Delaware-based Aero Ventilation, a firm not licensed to conduct transient sales in Maine. A contract shown to prospective clients makes no mention of Maine’s mandatory three-day “cooling off period,” during which a homeowner may call off a deal made in haste. In any event, work cannot by law begin until after those 72 hours are up.

Another shortcoming that prompted the Maine Attorney General’s Office to warn homeowners about the scam was a demand for payment in cash.

That’s always a red flag, since legitimate businesses­ — even those based out-of-state — will accept more traditional modes of payment.

Chimney work can be a fairly major repair. Maine law says, while contractors need not be licensed, work totaling more than $3,000 does require a written contract clearly outlining the job, time frame and three-day cool-off period. While our example above doesn’t meet that test, we recommend homeowners demand a contract that complies with Maine law when hiring for any substantial home repair. Maine law also requires no more than one-third of the estimated cost as a down payment.

The above scam is frustrating to public safety officials, who plead for chimneys to be cleaned on a regular basis. They urge that cleanings be done by local contractors, known in the community and trusted for the quality of their work. The prospect of saving a few dollars pales against the expense of a needless replacement by con artists.

The Attorney General has prosecuted some transient sellers for similar practices. But the AG’s website warns that court action doesn’t get homeowners reimbursed.

“Even when our lawsuits have been successful, we have been unable to collect a significant portion of the judgments because the builders are bankrupt, judgment proof, or have left the state,” the AG warns. “We strongly recommend that you research a contractor’s record before you begin any construction project.”

And, to those fly-by-nighters who told their mark they hoped she wouldn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning for failing to let them rip her off, we can only say in parting, pfffffth! For information, see the fire marshal’s website at www.maine.gov/dps/fmo.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to necontact.wordpress.com, or email atcontacexdir@live.com.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Business