Deception from overseas countries coming to central Wisconsin’s front door
WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Here’s something you might not think about very often, getting your home air ducts cleaned. Recent posts in local Facebook groups of people offering these services, often at a discounted price, have raised the question are you getting what you pay for?
While they may seem convincing, they are not all what they seem to be.
You can find duct cleaning posts in area Facebook groups and many other midwestern states including Michigan and Minnesota. They’ve even been spotted in Facebook groups all the way to Utah.
Ben Taylor, who investigated the air duct posts himself, shared, “There people are going into our community Facebook groups, and you see them posting there and you just think, ‘Hey this is my neighbor. This is someone in my community who just wants to help me.’”
Taylor took a deep dive into these Facebook posts after seeing many of them in his own local community groups. He started reaching out to the individuals, trying to find out who was behind these businesses.
“These are not their real pictures; they’ve stolen the pictures from somebody else,” Taylor said. “These are not real names, so I knew that these were fake profiles. I also reverse-image searched pictures from the Facebook posts and also found the pictures were from other real businesses.”
Taylor was able to track down where these profile creators were located, “Most of them, from what I’ve found, are from Pakistan. I’ve traced their IP addresses.”
The Wisconsin BBB hasn’t received any formal complaints about duct cleaning services. However, there is one from Alabama dated August 21 of this year for air duct cleaning. The person reported it was a fake Facebook account and they didn’t do the work they were hired for, and the person lost out on $369.
Lisa Schiller, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau, did some research and found the posts to be quite vague. “There’s no company name, there’s no phone number, there’s no owner name, there’s no information at all.”
Schiller recommends when hiring a contractor, get two to three written estimates, check references, ask for prior customers, and, “Call them. It takes a minute. Find out what their experience is. Any legitimate company will provide you that information.”
That’s exactly what Ben Taylor did. He wanted to find out if somebody would actually come to his door, and somebody did.
So how is this happening?
Taylor found that these people overseas are reaching out to technicians in the states and that’s where it gets dicey on what service you’ll get.
“You might have a very qualified technician, or you might just have some nobody with a vacuum cleaner who claims to do the work,” Taylor said.
Many administrators of local community Facebook pages are saying these posts are misleading. One said, “We usually catch them and block them as soon as we can. They would post daily if they weren’t deleted and blocked.”
The Bureau of Consumer Protection has not received any written complaints related to the air duct cleaning Facebook posts.
DATCP offered some tips for consumers who want to protect themselves against duct cleaning and similar scams are to:
- Check out a business before entering into an agreement or making any down payment,
- If the business is going door-to-door, verify with the municipality they are registered to do so,
- Get a second estimate for the work you want done,
- Get any agreement in writing, including the total cost and work to be completed.
The BBB also offered additional tips for customers to follow:
- Never pay with cash. Pay by credit card, which offers the most protection if the job isn’t completed or completed correctly. If you pay by check, make the check out to the company, not the individual).
- Never pay in full upfront. If you must pay anything, pay 1/3 down and the balance once the work is completed and to your satisfaction.
- Avoid door-to-door contractors. They may not be properly licensed or insured. And, when something goes wrong, you won’t be able to find them. A reputable contractor will be able to give you a business card with a valid address and phone number to reach him.
- Don’t concede to “high-pressure” contractors or salesmen. A reputable contractor will give you time to think about the offer.
DATCP is aware that some solicitors try to represent they are local when they are not and offer their services at a low price either online or door-to-door. In the middle of the job, they upcharge consumers. To ensure the work and cleanup is completed, consumers caught in this situation often end up paying far more than they were led to believe they’d spend.
Consumers can contact DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline at DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov or 800-422-7128 to check for complaints against a business or ask about a solicitation they received, or visit ConsumerProtection.wi.gov to read DATCP’s many fact sheets on these and related topics.
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