Chimney Scam Artists
Call today for an appointment
Watch this video link on chimney scams from WBZ News Boston and our friends in the Mass Chimney Sweeping Guild, The Duxbury Chimney Co.
Click this link
Comment from J. Wright made in a consumer journal:
Anyone who thinks they can get a honest chimney sweep for $49 almost deserves to be scammed I mean really would you drive a full size truck with ladders on it to someone’s house then climb on top of their roof and chimney and spend an hour scrubbing the inside of the chimney and smoke chamber and get exposed to soot for $49? How could they possibly carry liability and workman’s compensation insurances? What would happen if they hurt themselves at your house or damaged your stuff?
Our chimney sweeps go to the job with large 4 foot tall industrial HEPA vacuum, and lots of tools and special brushes that are motorized to spin in the chimney, people are telling us that the scammers came with a shop vac and old fashioned chimney sweep brush! Wow, you would think you would notice the lack of professionalism right away? Shop vacs do not seal tightly and will not contain the carcinogenic materials in soot. The incredibly small carcinogenic particles will pass right through a shop vac filter and be blown into your living area and you might not even see the dust because the particle size is so small! This alone puts your family’s health at risk - not to mention the huge safety risks of having someone inexperienced, unlicensed and uninsured work on you chimney and venting systems.
These companies tell you that you need all this work and then low and behold they just happen to have the right size and type products for your job right in their truck…I hope they are driving a tractor trailer because they would need that and more to carry around the different types of liners with all the different alloys, sizes, shapes and wall thicknesses (each application requires different types of lining). Also there are over 120 standard sized chimney caps with even more sizes when you consider screen height. Then there is the necessary mortar, bricks, flue tile, concrete…does this make any sense to you, how does all that fit in one van? We have a shop in Merrimac MA., several trailers and each individual technician’s truck and tool setup and will still have to order products for our customers. We see all kinds of improper venting being done in customer’s homes that truly puts their health at risk, and the sad fact is that these people got the work done because they were worried about their family’s health.
Here are some other articles about these scams:
By Staff reports
GateHouse News Service
Posted Jul 01, 2009 @ 11:03 AM
Wellesley MA. Police are warning residents to be wary of a possible scam involving chimney sweepers, according to a new announcement on its Web site.
On June 30, a Wellesleyite contacted the police department to report a scam involving a chimney sweep company.
From the WPD release:
The scam began when the victim was called numerous times, unsolicited, over a two week period. The caller used high pressure sales tactics during these repeated calls. The tactics included attempting to scare the caller by pointing out the fire dangers of having a dirty chimney, especially with having oil heat. The caller was given a very low verbal quote for the chimney sweeping, being told she would receive a considerable "Senior Citizen" discount. The price quoted was $49.
Once the victim agreed to have the chimney swept, two individuals began the work immediately. While the workers were there, they began to tell the victim that much more work was needed, including additional parts and labor. The victim refused to agree to the extra work. When the workers finished, they informed the victim that they had performed the work anyway, and the bill would now be $2000. A preliminary review of the work done shows that nothing significant, including sweeping, was actually done. Additionally, the workers did not clean up and left trash at the house.
The worker then called the victim and demanded a credit card number be provided to pay for the work. The workers did not provide a written estimate, a written bill, or any paperwork to the victim at any time during the process.
Fortunately, in this case, the victim contacted the Wellesley Police Department and also stopped payment by contacting their credit card’s fraud department before the charge went through.
This is the first report the department has taken regarding this particular scam this year. However, it is very similar to other scams that the department receives reports about. The most common of these is the driving paving/seal coating scam. Similar tactics, including a very low quote, is given. Many times, workers indicate they have 'extra material' from another paving job in the area. Used oil is then spread over the driveway, not actual paving/seal coating material. Once the work is completed, the victim is given a much higher bill, and immediate payment is demanded. After the worker leaves, the victim realizes that nothing has actually been done.
Residents should be very wary of any unsolicited offers of work from workers or callers, especially if any sort of high-pressure sales tactics are used and there is no paperwork. Always demand a written estimate, and written agreement of the work that is to be done beforehand. Reputable companies will have no problems providing this. Many times during these scams, elderly residents are targeted.
The Wellesley Police Department aggressively investigates scams of this type, and frequently works with other police departments in doing so. Please report any suspicious activity or similar events to the Wellesley Police Department.
Lawmaker Warns About Fraud by Unscrupulous Chimney Sweeps
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Published: May 28, 2009
The New York Times
At a time when Wall Street swindles, debt-reduction frauds and high-tech schemes all compete for the attention and savings of what is left of the unsuspecting masses, there evidently are still some practitioners of the tried and true: the chimney-sweep fraud.
The old bait-and-switch scheme — lure homeowners with a low price for basic services, then find some supposed problem requiring urgent and expensive repairs — is common in the suburbs, and is now being seen with some frequency in New York City, a state senator warned on Thursday.
The senator, Jeffrey D. Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, said he wanted to alert New Yorkers so they could better protect themselves.
Cynthia Chalmers, who lives in the central Bronx, said that she had back-to-back bad experiences with chimney sweeps. Late last month, she said, she had a cleaning done by an employee from Morning Star Cleaners of Bay Shore, on Long Island, which she said advertised its cleaning service for $25.
“He wasn’t even there five minutes when he told me there was a problem,” she recalled.
Ms. Chalmers said the employee told her that the chimney lining needed to be replaced, and that it posed a hazardous situation that would have to be reported. The cost he cited: $2,500, she said.
The employee kept pressing her to make the repairs or, she said, risk having her utilities turned off. “It felt like he was trying to scam me,” Ms. Chalmers said. “I didn’t feel like it was for real.”
She said she paid the $25 fee and called someone else for a second opinion. Another cleaner, A&C Chimney Cleaning of Hollis, Queens, had also advertised in her neighborhood, offering low rates.
Someone from A&C also told her that she needed repairs that would cost thousands of dollars, Ms. Chalmers said. At that point, she said, she paid him a small amount for a cleaning and reported her experiences to Mr. Klein’s office.
Under state law, chimney sweeps are supposed to be certified as contractors, but Mr. Klein’s office said neither company was certified.
Fred Napolitano, a spokesman for Morning Star Cleaners, said the company had no comment, and then later said it was investigating the matter.
Cesar Queteno, owner of A&C Chimney Cleaning, said he remembered Ms. Chalmers. “I said to the lady, ‘It’s not a big problem,’ ” he said. “ ‘It’s a little problem.’ ”
He said that the first contractor “scared her,” and that he told her, “If she really wants to do it, ‘I can give you a good deal.’ She didn’t have to spend a lot of money.”
Melissa Heeke, a spokeswoman for the Chimney Safety Institute of America, an industry association, said, “Homeowners don’t have a good sense of what they should be paying.”
“We encourage people not to fall for a super-low price,” she said, adding that no legitimate chimney cleaning would cost $25 or $30; they usually cost up to $300.
There are three levels of chimney inspection: a basic visual inspection, one done with a video camera, and one, performed rarely, after a chimney fire.
Anything that requires expensive work should involve the video inspection, Ms. Heeke said.
“If they come with a proposal and thousands of dollars, they should be writing you a report and providing you some justification for that.”
A version of this article appeared in print on May 29, 2009, on page A22 of the New York edition.
Chimney Repair and Cleaning Scams
Chimney repair and chimney cleaning scams are on the rise. Since most people know nothing about chimneys, this is a particularly easy way for scammers to cheat unsuspecting homeowners.
Here's how chimney repair and cleaning scams work:
The scammer contacts you (via email, phone, etc.) and offers you a special on chimney cleaning for a ridiculously low price, such as $39.95. If you've just moved into a new home, they may say that the previous residents (and mention their names to add credibility) used their company.
Once they get to your home, they inspect your chimney and tell you that there is structural damage, or that you need new chimney caps (also known as spark arresters). They may even bring in dead birds or pieces of concrete that they claim fell down the chimney.
These con artists usually focus on concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning. They often claim that it's really lucky you caught the leak now, since it could be fatal.
In fact, carbon monoxide leakage in chimneys is quite rare. There are instruments that prove carbon monoxide leakage -- if you hear this claim, make sure they prove it to you.
Another common scam is for the con artists to claim you need a new liner. Liners are made of clay, cast concrete or metal to contain the fire and direct it upwards -- and they are expensive.
Unfortunately, these scammers often claim good liners need to be replaced. Or even worse, they install new liners in the wrong size or only line part of the chimney, which can be very dangerous.
Perhaps the icing on the cake for scammers is that many people are predisposed to trust chimney sweeps because people loved the Dick Van Dyke character in "Mary Poppins." This may make it even easier for scammers to con unsuspecting homeowners.
How do you protect yourself? Here are some tips from the National Chimney Sweep Guild and the Chimney Safety Institute of America:
- Don't fall for low prices. A legitimate company probably won't take a ladder off the truck for $39. An inspection will probably cost about $75, and a chimney cleaning should go for at least $150 and take at least an hour.
- Always ask for -- and check -- references.
- Don't let anyone pressure you into fast action. Shop around and get two or three bids before you make your decision regarding which company to use.
- Check to make sure the company is licensed and doesn't have a lot of complaints. Not all areas require licensing, but many do. It may be worthwhile to consider if the chimney sweep is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
- Make sure the company has up-to-date liability insurance.
- In some localities, the fire department may inspect chimneys for free. It never hurts to find out.
How often does your chimney actually need to be cleaned?
This depends on many factors, including how much you use your fireplace. Experts say that if you only use your fireplace once a week or for a few hours at a time during the winter, you can go two or three years without a cleaning. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends annual inspections.
One way to tell that your chimney needs cleaning is if soot rains down when you open or close your damper. You can also measure to see if you have one-eighth of an inch of creosote buildup.
How to Avoid Chimney Sweep Scams
August 03, 2007 by
One common home improvement scam involves a person coming to your house offering to do a chimney inspection. They might claim to be calling for a boiler room instead. Much like the basement waterproofing scams that often use telemarketers, they will offer a no or low cost inspection. Once the inspection is completed, they will offer repairs that may or may not be needed; typically the line will be that your chimney needs a new liner that can be replaced for several thousand dollars.
While fireplace chimneys can pose many dangers to the home, you might want to check with your fire department in your neighborhood before agreeing to these inspections. Many will conduct chimney inspections for free as a public service. For wood burning chimneys, an oily black substance called creosote can build up on the chimney walls. If the buildup becomes more than a quarter inch thick, a fire may result. Gas and oil chimney are less of a fire hazard but should undergo regular inspections also.
The key to avoiding these less than scrupulous contractors is knowing the person with whom you are dealing. Check to see if the person offering the service has been trained by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Such businesses might belong to a guild in the state in you live. If you are suspicious, check with either the institute or the guild in your state to see if you are dealing with a reputable chimney sweep. If the service uses a camera and monitor to look down your flu, ask to watch the monitor with him and have it explain it to you. If he gives you a run around or refuses to do so, you might want to choose someone else. If a chimney sweep is needed, the person will tell you so and the rate might run between $100 to $250. It may be a substantial chunk of change for most people, but it is certainly better than the thousands of dollars the scam artist would charge you for a lining your chimney does not need.
While sometimes you may need the services of a chimney sweep, a little maintenance especially for gas or oil heaters can reduce the services. If your home uses one of these systems to keep your family warm in winter, have someone come into service your unit in the fall before the cold weather starts.
"5 Biggest Home Repair Rip-offs." Tom Philbin. Reader's Digest. March, 2007. New York, New York.
Scam Artists Smudge Chimney Sweeps' Reputation
By Jim Gillam
Originally published in SNEWS - The Chimney Sweep News, December 2007
The apparently increasing prevalence of chimney scams is prompting warnings from government officials and consumer advocates.
“Whisk away any chimney sweep who uses scare tactics or shows up without the basics (a flashlight, brushes, and a special vacuum)” cautioned Consumers Union, publishers of Consumers Reports (www.consumerreports.org), last month, adding, “Also beware of those who offer low bids or excessive proposals.”
“Be wary if you get a call from anyone claiming to be from ‘your chimney cleaning company’ or ‘the chimney company,’ phrases which suggest it’s a business with which you have an established relationship,” wrote renowned consumer reporter Asa Aarons in the New York Daily News on October 23.
“The public should be aware that there has been a higher insurgence of fraudulent chimney services than any other home improvement services,” stated Lt. Michael Walsh of the Fairfield, NY Police Department on September 6, as reported in the Fairfield Citizen-News.
In October, police in New Haven, CT urged residents “not to allow anyone to enter their home or to do business with anyone who randomly knocks on the door.”
Write Us a Check
The warnings come in response to complaints from consumers concerning overcharges for chimney repairs.
The New Haven case involved two men in a white van who on September 26 allegedly arrived at the home of an elderly woman and claimed to have been sent by the oil company to work on her chimney. New Haven Neighborhood Services Officer Joe Avery stated, “The suspects charged this woman $1600 to clean and do work on her chimney and asked her to write the check out to the abbreviation of their company name, C.A.S.H.,” according to a report in the New Haven Independent.
Similar modus operandi has been reported in numerous locations this year, including Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island.
Scammers use innumerable ploys, but their techniques often have several things in common. They usually begin with an offer of a low cost inspection or sweeping. When the company arrives for the job, they claim to discover problems that urgently require repair. They may pressure the homeowner, sometimes with scare tactics, to hire them to do the work immediately. Then the company may “do no work at all, inferior work or unnecessary work,” warned County Executive Andy Spano of Westchester County, NY.
“The questionable sweeps often offer discounts for cash,” wrote Aarons. “Failing that, they’ll encourage consumers to bill the full amount to credit cards.”
Scammers’ favorite targets are senior citizens, but they’ll go after anyone. “These scam artists prey on all members of our community, regardless of age or income level,” said Putnam County,
NY Consumer Affairs Director Joseph LaBarbera.
“The problem has become a rite of spring and fall,” said the Orange County, NY Department of Consumer Affairs in a press release.
Advice for Consumers
Consumers Union describes a basic chimney sweep and inspection procedure that “will last up to 90 minutes” and suggests that consumers should expect to pay $180-$300 per flue.
The Orange County, NY Department of Consumer Affairs recommends that “consumers try to avoid doing business via phone solicitations unless they are familiar or have done business with the solicitor previously.” The Department also advises consumers to:
- Never pay for unauthorized work, which purportedly has been done.
- Never succumb to high-pressure tactics in paying the bill.
- Remember when they leave with your money, most likely you will never be able to locate them again.
- If possible try to record the license plate number of the vehicle.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) has published recommendations on how to hire a chimney sweep. The institute suggests asking:
- How long has the chimney sweeping company been in business?
- Does the company offer current references?
- Does the company have unresolved complaints filed within the city or state consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau?
- Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
CSIA, Consumers Union and others refer consumers to the listing of CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps® at www.csia.org. Choosing a company with certified sweeps may greatly increase a consumer’s chance of getting a good job done, but certification is not necessarily a guarantee of good workmanship. “The ‘not so reputable’ guy has now gotten CSIA certified, reducing the value of the credential,” wrote Bill Ryan (William Ryan & Son Chimney, Landing, NJ) recently in a post to the Chimneys-L Internet discussion group.
False claims of certification present another difficulty. While current certification can be verified by checking the list on the website, this doesn’t prevent some companies from claiming it without ever having had it, or continuing to claim expired certification, and using the official logo in their advertising and on their trucks.
“There are several logo violators in the phone book here,” Ryan wrote, “but since you can’t get an address, you can’t file a complaint. These guys are not stupid.”
Interference with Legitimate Business
A veteran chimney sweep in Connecticut believes that he has evidence of chimney scammers going beyond simply defrauding their own customers, but interfering with his business as well. He thinks his answering machine has been “phreaked” by chimney scammers.
“Phreaking is the use of a computer modem and ‘war-dialer’ program to send out a long string of numbers that breaks the answering machine security code and allows messages to be listened to or erased,” he explained. “People were saying that they left a message but I never returned their call, or that they were tele marketed right after calling me.”
This sweep now pays the local phone company to handle his voice mail. “I get perfect security and sound clarity,” he said.
Raise the Bar
How do legitimate chimney specialists deal with scammers who claim to offer the same necessary, potentially life-saving services they work diligently to provide?
“It doesn’t really bother us,” Bill Ryan wrote. “It just seems to make more work in the end. I spend a lot of time fixing someone else’s mistakes.” He suggested that “in the end, those that raise the bar will succeed.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of The Chimney Sweep News (SNEWS).The Chimney Sweep News is an independent trade journal for professional chimney service specialists.
Subscriptions to The Chimney Sweep News are available by calling 541-882-5196.
Scam Sweeps Blow Money Up the Chimney
October 13th, 2008
Here’s some advice for anyone thinking about accepting an unsolicited offer for a free or low-cost chimney cleaning. Don’t do it. Do not say yes. Do not think you’re getting a bargain. Do not, under any circumstances, think you have nothing to lose but the $40 or $50 you pay for the chimney cleaning.
As long as we’re on the topic of chimney cleaning, promise me you’ll ignore:
Warm and friendly callers who claim they represent “your chimney cleaning company.”
Companies who tell you they’re running a special because they’re working in your neighborhood.
Warnings that your house will catch fire, the chimney will collapse and everyone inside will die from carbon monoxide poisoning unless repairs are made on the spot.
If I sound a little paranoid and unusually severe, there’s a good reason. Chimney sweep scams are predictable and pervasive. The Chimney Safety Institute of America, a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational organization established by the National Chimney Sweep Guild, says they’re common because the trade is largely unregulated and requires a relatively small capital investment.
Virtually anyone–without education, training, experience or even a working knowledge of proper tools or equipment can become a chimney sweep. As a result, many ill-equipped, ill-prepared individuals are free to offer their services to homeowners, the group warns.
It doesn’t help that there’s really no way for a homeowner to inspect the work allegedly performed, without climbing up on the roof. Just recently, I heard from a consumer who was victimized (again) by a scam chimney cleaning company. “It must be me and chimneys,” she said, “but I almost got scammed again by another fly-by-night operation.”
“I got a cold call from a person who said he could clean the chimney for $35. He said they had an opening the next day. I bit.” She thought she had little to lose. But that was before the chimney sweep arrived, climbed up on the roof and came back down with a $2,000 estimate for a new chimney liner.
It happens over and over, year after year…sometimes, even to the same consumers. It’s one of the most common home improvement scams. A sham company will persuade a homeowner to accept a free or low-cost cleaning, and then a clever con artist will frighten the homeowner into approving thousands of dollars of bogus repairs.
If the homeowner resists, the scam chimney sweep will increase the pressure–and intensify the fear with dire warnings of chimney failures and carbon monoxide gas leaks. Don’t fall for it. Tell the con artist to leave. Call the police if you have to. Then turn off the furnace or any other appliances connected to your chimney, and call a chimney company you know and trust for a second opinion.
It’s a red flag whenever a company pressures you to make immediate repairs. Chimneys can and do deteriorate. Over time, the clay liner and brick can crumble, leaving the home vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning or fire. In that case, it may make sense to reline the chimney.
Replacement chimney liners in flexible or rigid form are inserted into the chimney, often within the existing flue. Most liners are stainless steel alloy, although aluminum is used for low-efficiency gas furnaces and some homeowners still use traditional terra-cotta, which can last as long as 75 years. Stainless steel and other others have less history, since they’ve only been used for about 25 years.
But like any home improvement project, chimney repairs should be undertaken with care. Shop around. Verify the company’s license and insurance. Find out whether your city or town requires you to get a building permit. Make chimney repairs if they’re necessary, but make them on your own terms.
Good information. This sort of thing has been happening in Connecticut for 20 years now. Never fall for a phone solicitation from a chimney sweep. Seniors should be warned about this
Other Relative Article Links:
Call Chimney Savers today for an appointment
We can help prevent big problems