St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 2, 2010 –
A Chicago-area company accused of misleading and pressuring homeowners to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for unnecessary furnace and duct work has brought its business to the St. Louis area.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises caution when dealing with representatives of Air Duct Cleaning Pros
of Schaumburg, Ill. The company also uses the name Duct Pros
An 86-year-old widow from Glen Carbon, Ill., told the BBB that a company employee coerced her to pay $500 in September, after she responded to an advertising flyer for a $79 duct-cleaning special. She said that when she stopped payment on her check, a company official became so threatening that “I was afraid to sleep for two nights.”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said that reports on file with the BBB in Chicago paint a portrait of a company that uses advertised specials to obtain access to consumers’ homes, and then uses high-pressure sales tactics to get them to pay for additional work.
“This appears to be a classic bait-and-switch that tempts consumers with low-cost offers and then hits them with a variety of add-ons,” Corey said. “To say that this raises ethical concerns is certainly an understatement.”
The Chicago BBB says the company’s principal is Mike Rogers
. Several consumers said Rogers identified himself as the company owner. Air Duct Cleaning Pros has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible.
The Glen Carbon woman, widow of a Granite City firefighter, said the ad was included in a packet of flyers she received in the mail. The flyers apparently were distributed to addresses in the Metro East area.
The woman said she emphasized to both the receptionist on the phone and to the workers who came to her home on Sept. 29 that she was interested in spending no more than the $79 referred to in the flyer.
But after a quick inspection of her home, the workers performed a series of chemical treatments on her furnace and ducts and told her she owed them $777. The total included $250 for mold control and $125 for smoke odor control. When she said she did not have mold in her house, the worker reportedly told her it was a preventive measure so she would not get mold in the future. She also said she did not understand the need for smoke control since she had never smelled smoke and no one in the house had ever smoked.
The worker eventually reduced the price to $500 and instructed her to pay with two checks, one dated with that day’s date and the other post-dated to Oct. 29. She said she wrote the checks and signed the agreement because she was afraid the workers would not leave until she did.
“I had to get rid of them,” she said.
A few days after she stopped payment on both checks, Rogers called her. She said he told her if she did not pay, there will be “people knocking on your door” and her credit would be ruined. “They thought I was old and dumb,” she said.
Other customers have reported a long list of problems with the company:
- A man from Homer Glen, Ill., told the BBB that a company employee took advantage of his father’s dementia to sell him $2,000 in products and services, many of which were clearly not needed. When the family requested a refund, referencing a letter from the man’s physician concerning his diminished mental capacity, the company told the BBB, “We are unable to comply with customer request.”
- A 75-year-old woman from Hanover Park, Ill., told the BBB that a worker with Air Duct Cleaning Pros billed her $1,700 for a variety of services after she responded to an ad for a $69 duct-cleaning special. “I feel they saw a sitting duck when they came into this house,” said the woman, whose only income is $993 a month in Social Security.
- A woman from Plainfield, Ill., said she and four of her neighbors answered an ad for a $69 duct-cleaning special. A salesman told all five that they had a mold problem. The woman said the worker showed her a digital photo of what he said was mold in her furnace and then showed what appeared to be the same photo to two of her neighbors, also telling them that it was a photo of mold in their furnaces. She said her brother came to her home the next day and “ripped apart the whole furnace,” but found no evidence of a mold problem. Despite the advertised cost, each of the homeowners was charged $105 for the work, not $69.
- A 72-year-old retiree from Porter, Ind., said he believes he was pressured to pay the company $1,000 for work to correct a reported mold problem. The man says he does not believe he had mold in his house.
A BBB investigator phoned Air Duct Cleaning Pros last month and spoke with a receptionist there. She said she would tell Rogers to return the call, but he did not.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges consumers to be wary of any company that makes sweeping promises that air duct cleaning will improve residents’ health. The EPA suggests cleaning in cases where there is visible mold growth, vermin infestation or the ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris. It also says that homeowners need to fully understand the pros and cons of using chemical treatments.
The BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to hire a duct-cleaning firm:
- Deal only with reputable companies, preferably businesses in your area with a good track record. Ask for references from homeowners in your neighborhood. Always contact the BBB for a Reliability Report by going to www.bbb.org or calling 314-645-3300.
- Beware of advertising that offers what seem to be extremely low prices for air duct cleaning. Often, these ads are used by businesses expecting to sell additional services once they get inside your home.
- If a company discovers a potential problem in your furnace or ducts, do not be pressured into paying for additional services until you have contacted a heating and air conditioning professional for a second opinion. While the second company may charge you for a service call to check out the problem, the call may save you money if not service is needed.
- Try to have a friend or family member with you during a scheduled appointment with a salesman or service technician. If that is not possible and you feel threatened or intimidated during the visit, ask the person or persons to leave your home immediately. If they refuse or hesitate, call your local police.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-645-3300, email@example.com