Homeowners should be on the alert for businesses using high-pressure or deceptive sales tactics to sell air-duct-cleaning services in Missouri and Illinois, the Consumer Fraud Task Force warns.
The Task Force is reporting an increase in the number of consumer complaints about duct-cleaning companies offering low-cost cleaning deals and billing consumers hundreds or thousands of dollars more for questionable or unnecessary work.
Several duct-cleaning operations have come to the attention of area law enforcement, business and consumer groups:
- Three years ago, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued a Chicago-area air duct and vent-cleaning company for fraudulently charging customers for expensive and unnecessary mold and mildew work in their homes.
- In June, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced that a judge in St. Louis County had ordered a St. Louis duct-cleaning firm to pay $35,000 for violating the state’s No Call law. Koster said the company had made tens of thousands of automated “robo-calls” to phone numbers registered on the No Call list.
- In recent weeks, BBB in St. Louis has received several complaints about a California-based duct-cleaning firm that used high-pressure and misleading phone calls to make appointments with consumers. In some of these cases, the firm charged anywhere from hundreds of dollars to more than $1,000 for work that the consumer believed was unnecessary.
Also, the Task Force says that consumers recently have notified BBB and law enforcement that they were called by air duct firms even though they were on a Do Not Call List.
Other consumers said the companies claimed they had done duct and vent cleaning work at their homes previously when they had not. Still others said the companies offered them $40 or $50 cleaning services and then surprised them with bills for several hundred dollars or more.
A consumer from St. Louis recently said she believed she was a victim of a bait-and-switch tactic from an air duct firm.
“This company kept calling to come out to check the ducts for $39.95,” she said. “Before I knew it, the cost was up to $1,000.”
The Task Force suggests that consumers contemplating duct-cleaning work contact a trusted heating and air conditioning company before proceeding.
The Task Force notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that, despite some claims to the contrary, “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that (dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.” The EPA says that a homeowner should consider cleaning if there is substantial visible mold growth inside your heating and cooling system, if ducts are infested with vermin, or if ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris.
Consumers also need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of applying chemicals to their systems. A complete EPA report on duct cleaning can be accessed online at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html.
The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.
The group previously has tackled predatory payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare reselling fraud, credit repair and foreclosure scams, bogus sweepstakes, Internet sweetheart scams, home remodeling and a variety of other issues.
To obtain information or to report a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:
- Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois – (314) 645-3300; www.bbb.org.
- Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); www.ftc.gov.
- Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618; www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.
- Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222; www.ago.mo.gov.
- U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200; www.usdoj.gov/usao/moe.
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
- U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; www.secretservice.gov.
- Better Business Bureau in Greater Kansas City – (816) 421-7800; www.bbb.org.