Preparing to inspect a chimney flue with a camera (C) Daniel Friedman Chimney Cleaning Fraud or Repair Scam Warning Notice
     


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This document warns consumers about a common consumer fraud involving promises of quick, cheap chimney inspection, cleaning or repair services. Chimney and flue safety hazards such as carbon monoxide gas leaks, fire hazards, and chimney inspection and testing are addressed. Readers should also see Chimney Cleaning Advice, Procedures and see CHIMNEY REPAIR METHODS.

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Chimney Scam Warnings - Consumer Warning Notice

Watch out for consumer fraud and scam operations that promise low-priced specials on chimney inspection, cleaning, re-lining, or repairs. Readers have informed us of a variety of common chimney rip offs involving professional criminals who combine information about new home buyers and local business names with a telephone promise of various chimney services such as chimney cleaning for $39.95. Homeowners attracted to this chimney deal may encounter scammers who arrive with a ladder, take a superficial look at a chimney, and claim that the chimney is unsafe, needs re-lining, or other treatment.

How to Avoid the Chimney Sweep Fraud Scam

Chimney moving at roof (C) Daniel FriedmanA clue from our photograph at left: if your "chimney repairman" doesn't even leave the ground, it's doubtful that he's a professional. But just placing a ladder against the building and "looking" is also not a professional nor thorough chimney inspection and certainly it's not a repair.

These warnings [adapted& quoting from] from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection can help consumers avoid getting scammed by a fake chimney service company:

  • To find a reputable chimney sweep, ask friends for referrals, look in the business section of your telephone directory under "Chimney Cleaning,” or visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America web site at www.csia.org. You can also visit the site for the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) at www.ncsg.org.Many sweeps apply for certification by CSIA or membership in the NCSG. These organizations promote professionalism in the industry by testing applicants and offering continuing education opportunities to keep members up to date on changing technology and fire safety.>
  • NEVER hire a chimney sweep who shows up at your door uninvited. There are many home improvement scams that commonly take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners; fly-by-night chimney sweep scams is one of the most prevalent
  • Be aware of telemarketing offers where someone offers you a very, very low price to come and clean your chimney. If someone is trying to get in at a very low price or is calling you out of the blue, they may just want to get their foot in the door, because they're really looking to do some type of repair work.
  • Some scammers provide photos they claim are from inside or outside your chimney, as evidence to convince you that your chimney needs repair. You have to be sure the photos are actually from your house. So any pictures that are provided to justify getting work done should include something in the photo or in the background that identifies it as your home
  • Some scam artists show debris from a chimney as an indicator of something that's broken. If the company claims that this debris shows that your liner is broken or collapsed that you need a new liner system, get a second opinion, or have them show you where it is broken.
  • Be aware of attempts to frighten you. If you get the feeling that a salesperson or sweeper is using terms like carbon monoxide poisoning or house fire in a way that feels alarming, you should get another opinion. This could very well be a hard sell tactic.
  • If you are being pushed to make an immediate decision, then make the decision to look for someone else.

More Tips to Avoid Home Repair Scams

New York State Consumer Protection Board providfes this general advice to avoid consumer home repair scams:

  • Protect your privacy – Never give out personal information over the telephone, especially your Social Security number. Do not disclose financial information to anyone outside of a trusted circle of family members and advisors.
  • Always ask for identification - Never let strangers into your home, and always check identification of any service person you have contacted before allowing them to enter your home. Report suspicious solicitations to the police.
  • Limit the amount of cash you keep on hand or at your home. Do not allow anyone to take you to withdraw money from your bank to pay for their services.
  • Carefully review all contracts before you sign. Also, review all bank and credit card statements, stock reports and investment prospectives. Double check sales receipts to make sure you were not over charged.
  • Ask questions - Never be afraid to consult a trusted friend, a financial advisor/lawyer or family member for assistance, especially when making purchases of more than $100 or signing contracts. Contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the New York State Consumer Protection Board with any questions or concerns.
  • Ensure that all promises be put in writing, including the project scope, costs, payment schedule and start and expected completion date. Review the contract carefully as you have three days to cancel the deal.
  • Do not pay the full amount upfront.
  • Don’t sign a certificate of completion until the work is completed to your satisfaction.
  • Be wary of contractors who offer high cost loans in combination with construction services.
  • Keep all paperwork. For further information, obtain a copy of Home Improvements Without Headaches [PDF download] or obtain a copy directly from the New York State Consumer Protection Board.

Realistic Prices for Chimney Services

According to a 2008 New York Times article by Jennifer Lee:

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. [this was a 2008 price - Ed.]

Recent Chimney Sweep or Repair Fraud Cases

Quoting from the Daily Freeman, a New York newspaper article published 11 December 2010

Police Chief Phil Mattracion said Friday that the con artists, who identify themselves as being with  All Purpose Chimney Care Inc., approach homeowners and tell them that their oil company has demanded they get their chimneys cleaned.

So far, Mattracion said, three property owners have been approached for a cleaning. One elderly person did pay the scam artists, but the check was later stopped by her son, Mattracion said.

Mattracion said police suspect the same scam was played out in October in Darien, Connecticut.

Mattracion said residents should not even discuss the matter with the con artists and call police immediately at (845) 647-4422.

Quoting from the DarienPatch, a Connecticut newspaper article published 29 January 2010

Following the arrests of two scam artists, the Darien Police and State Department of Consumer Protection urge residents to take necessary precautions when investing in home repairs.

... Clifford E. Kearns of Sheldon, NY and 26-year old John R. Rastrellie of Stuart Fl.—were arrested on Wednesday afternoon following a sting operation in which the two men tried to scam a 79-year-old Darien woman of $13,000 of unnecessary chimney repairs.

Chimney Fraud & Scam References

  • Readers should also see Chimney Cleaning Advice, Procedures and see CHIMNEY REPAIR METHODS.
  • Chimney Safety Institute of America, a trade association,CSIA Technology Center, 2155 Commercial Drive, Plainfield, IN 46168, www.csia.org - this is a recommended resource that provides a certified [chimney] professional locator at http://www.csia.org/default.aspx?tabid=174
  • National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG), also a trade association, National Chimney Sweep Guild, 2155 Commercial Drive, Plainfield, IN 46168 (317) 837-1500, www.ncsg.org - this is a recommended resource
  • Great Deals, BIg Scams, New York State Consumer Protection Board, Advocating for and Empowering NY Consumers 1-800-697-1220, www.nysconsumer.gov . Web search 02/11/2011, original source: http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/pdf/protecting/scam_
    prevention/great_deals_big_scams.pdf
  • Home Improvements Without Headaches, New York State Consumer Protection Board, 2007, this document includes telephone numbers for local consumer protection offices in various New York counties or municipalities. Web search 02/11/2011, original source: http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/pdf/educating
    /home_ownership/home_improvment_brochure.pdf
  • Lawmaker Warns About Fraud by Unscrupulous Chimney Sweeps, Jennifer 8. Lee, The New York Times, 28 May 2009, Web search 02/11/2011, source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/nyregion/29chimney.html
  • Beware of Chimney Scams, Jim Gillam, Jay Hensley, The Chimney Sweep News, March 2008, Jim Gillam Editor/Publisher, 541-882-5196, Web search 02/11/2011, source: http://www.labrossebrothers.com/Beware%20of%20Chimney%20Scams%200308.pdf
  • Avoid Chimney Repair Fraud, published by the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, Department of Consumer Protection, 165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford CT 06106, Tel: 800-842-2649, 860) 713-7240 TDD, (860) 713-7243 Fax. Web search 02/11/2011, original source: http://www.ct.gov/dcp/cwp/view.asp?a=1629&q=423240
  • Ellenville [NY] Police Chief Warns of Scam, publisher: Daily Freeman, web search 02/11/2011, original source: http://www.dailyfreeman.com/articles/2010/12/11/blotter/doc4d02e5becb659271691535.txt
  • Don't Get Burned: Police Warn of Chimney Scams, Cecelia Smith, Darien Patch, web search 02/11/2011, original source: http://darien.patch.com/articles/chimney-scam-arrests
  • Chimney Repair and Cleaning Scams, The truth about chimney repair and cleeaning: Internet Scambusters #151, Internet Scambusters, 197 New Market Center #115, Boone NC 815-642-0460 Scambusters.org. Web search 02/11/2011, original source: http://www.scambusters.org/chimneyrepair.html

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