Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Avoiding Scams: Don't Let a Scammer Blow Smoke Up Your Chimney

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 typically 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. Some brazen individuals will even knock on your door.  If you've just moved into a new home, they may say that the previous residents (and mention their names to add credibility after "casually" checking mailboxes) employed their service.

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 dangers. They often claim that it's really lucky you caught the leak now, since it could be fatal. Whatever claim they make, ask for evidence of the issue.

Another common scam is for the con artists to claim you need a new liner. Liners are made of metal to contain the fumes 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, often using the wrong materials (and disregarding building codes and UL installation guidelines) in the wrong size or only line part of the chimney, which can be very dangerous.

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 chimney sweeping should go for at least $200 and take about an hour.

- Always ask for -- and check -- references. 

- Out of state license plates should be the first clue that the company is not a local business you could contact in case you need to. 

- Don't let anyone pressure you into fast action.

- Check to make sure the company is licensed and doesn't have a lot of complaints. Not all areas require licensing, but many do.

- Make sure the company has up-to-date liability insurance.

We've had plenty of experience answering calls to fix issues created by scam companies.  Take good care and don't fall for scams.  Make sure your hard earned money goes to improve the condition and safety of your chimneys by employing a local, honest, and reputable company.

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