Unfortunately, disreputable and downright fake HVAC companies take advantage of customers on a daily basis. The ease at which these companies can scan their customers is largely due to most homeowners’ inexperience with HVAC systems, as well as the significant cost of the systems themselves.
Warning Signs of an Untrustworthy Contractor
Knowing the warning signs of an untrustworthy HVAC company can greatly reduce your chances of getting scammed. Be wary of pressured sales, cold calls and doomsday conversations.
Using Pressure Tactics
Reputable HVAC companies know that purchases require careful consideration. If you find yourself doing business with a contractor who insists that a purchase must be made at that moment, it’s best to walk away. Common scams include telling the customer that a particular deal ends at the end of the day. If your HVAC company is offering some sort of limited time offer, ask to see it in writing. However, even in this scenario, companies can often create false documents that seem to back up their claims.
How to beat the scam: If you feel pressured by a contractor, do a little more research before agreeing to the service. Good HVAC companies don’t use pressure tactics, and most want to make lasting connections with their customers instead of pushing a sale.
Being “In the Neighborhood”
This is one of the most common scams, and one that can be the most detrimental. If a contractor contacts you claiming to “be in the neighborhood,” he is most likely trying to drum up dishonest business. He’ll likely offer a free estimate, and then find something wrong with your HVAC system that he insists needs immediate attention. These contractors mask themselves as being proactive in assisting potential customers, when instead they are weaseling their way into your home in order to make a sale. These contractors may also use the name of a larger company in order to make their offer sound more legitimate. They may say that they were referred by a certain company, or may actually claim to be that company.
How to beat the scam: If you get a cold call from a company offering a free inspection, it’s best to be wary of the offer. If you do accept, make sure the service van is properly marked with the right company’s information and that the technician is wearing company clothing.
Offering Unrealistic Bargains
Some HVAC companies may offer tune-ups at an unrealistic bargain price. These “bargains” range anywhere from about $19 to $79. Contractors will use this low-ball price in order to gouge the customer with made up problems that they claim need fixing immediately. In the end, the customer ends up paying much more than he would have with a regular-priced tune-up, and he will most inevitably be paying for unneeded services.
How to beat the scam: A thorough HVAC tune-up should be significantly higher than $100, and the money you spend on the service will give you increased peace of mind that you’re dealing with a quality contractor.
Asking for a Significant Amount of Money Up Front
Unless you’re getting HVAC service from your Uncle Joe who maintains heating and cooling units on the side for fun, a company should never ask you to pay a significant amount of money up front. Some companies may legitimately want you to pay a small down payment, but any company that insists on receiving money in order to purchase the needed part is most likely trying to swindle you.
How to beat the scam: Good HVAC companies are stocked with what they need, and if they do need another part, they’ll have the resources to order it before charging you. Additionally, steer clear of companies that want you to pay cash, as they are likely doing business under the table, and be sure to get everything in writing before handing over any payments.
Using Unlicensed Technicians
Having licensed technicians means that the HVAC company has to pay their staff appropriately, but good companies know proper licensing is essential for upstanding service. Some contractors may hire unqualified technicians in order to cut costs, but these technicians often don’t know how to properly install products and perform repairs. Low quality service can end up costing you a significant amount of money, as parts are likely to be installed incorrectly and subsequently malfunction. Unlicensed technicians are also often not properly screened before being hired, which means you may be having an untrustworthy person enter your home.
How to beat the scam: Always ensure that the HVAC company you work with has proper licensing. It’s also a good idea to hire a company that continually trains its employees.
Using Scare Tactics
A contractor may scare you by claiming you have “toxic mold” in order to sell you an unnecessary service. Toxic mold is a common go-to when HVAC companies try to promote duct cleaning services. While duct cleaning can be beneficial in certain circumstances, this service is best performed when it includes service to your entire HVAC system, and not just the ducts. Certain circumstances, like renovations, animal infestations a family member with allergies that has no known cause, can make duct cleaning worth the expense, but in most cases, this service is unnecessary. HVAC companies may use other scare tactics as well, including insisting that a certain HVAC part will cause significant physical damage if not fixed immediately. The contractor may reference legal liability, claiming that the malfunctioning part could cause injury to an innocent visitor.
How to beat the scam: While it is true that parts do need to be replaced at some point, trust a company that gives you a reasonable time frame for the needed repairs and who focuses on facts instead of dramatic claims. Also invest in duct cleaning services only when necessary and when they are performed along with a complete cleaning of the HVAC unit.
Being an Imposter for a Real Company
Imposters are possibly the worst HVAC scammers, and some of the hardest to spot. They may contact you by phone or in person and claim to be affiliated with a well-known HVAC company, but in reality they are transients who perform off-the-record work and then leave the area. These imposters may hand you a fake business card or refer you to a PO box instead of a physical address. The imposters generally provide substandard service, demand payment upfront and find issues with your HVAC system that aren’t legitimate. They may also have the “perfect replacement” in their truck.
How to beat the scam: If a company reaches out to you instead of the other way around, be extra vigilant that the representative is actually from the company they claim to work for. Oftentimes the legitimate companies are aware that imposters are offering services but have difficulty tracking them down. If someone comes into your home whom you don’t feel good about, call the company from the number listed on the official website and verify that the worker is in fact an employee.
There are a variety of ways untrustworthy HVAC companies may try to scam their customers, but reputable companies are ready and willing to fix any previous scam and offer above-board service. In order to find a quality company, check references and make sure the company is a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Getting annual service on your HVAC system can also help keep you from scrambling for any available contractor at the last minute do to urgent repair needs.
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