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BBB warns of furnace and duct cleaning scams, unethical practices as winter approaches

Click to play video 'Getting your furnace or ducts serviced? Why you need to do your homework before allowing someone into your home' Getting your furnace or ducts serviced? Why you need to do your homework before allowing someone into your home
The BBB and some HVAC companies are warning homeowners to do their homework before hiring anyone to service your furnace or air ducts. As Tomasia DaSilva reports, scammers are costing businesses and consumers a lot of money – Oct 29, 2020

The Better Business Bureau has a warning for consumers thinking about getting their furnaces and ducts serviced as winter is fast approaching — do your research thoroughly before you book.

Shawna-Kay Thomas with the BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay told Global News scams with furnace and duct servicing is an ongoing problem every year.

“Last year we had about 100 complaints that we had to resolve,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the complaints revealed issues with billing, collections, warranties and satisfaction with repairs.

Global News also asked Thomas about the growing number of ads popping up on social media sites from companies or individuals offering discounted services.

Many of these posted ads did not provide a company name or any other pertinent information up front.

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“That’s a huge red flag if a company is not willing to give you their name, their license info, a contact number, a contact person before a truck shows up,” she said.

She advised not to click on any ad, give out any personal information or pay for any service until you contact the HVAC company directly.

Read more: Calgary business owner claims fraudulent furnace company using his name, confronts owner

HVAC companies warn about fly-by-night organizations

Calgary-based Alberta Home Services also issued a warning about fly-by-night companies.

In 2019, Global News helped uncover another company allegedly going to people’s homes and impersonating Alberta Home Services‘ technicians. Customers would then call them to complain.

“We didn’t have any records of them in our system,” Calgary branch manager Sam Elias said.

It now has a warning on its website advising potential consumers of imposters.

“They certainly cause concern because they may not be qualified enough, they’re not certified or insured properly,” Elias added.

Elias said these types of companies also hit the reputation and revenue of legitimate operators hard.

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“I would say hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Alberta Indoor Comfort, which previously operated as Sears, said it too has been questioned about its identity when calling clients for repeat service.

“They stop and go, ‘Oh I don’t know, we’ve been called about eight times this week. Are you really who you say you are?'” owner Carla Berezowski said.

Berezowski doesn’t blame customers for being skeptical, also pointing to the many unlicensed companies and individuals currently in the marketplace.

“You could go find a guy that says, ‘We’ll come in and clean your furnace,'” she said. “And that’s probably what he does — he probably takes a vacuum to the blower and maybe wipes up some of the dust and calls it a day.”

Berezowski said proper maintenance usually will take a couple of hours.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t put it back together the way it should be put back together — that could be a problem.”

Another problem Berezowski said some customers have faced have been higher-than-expected bills. The fly-by-night services get into the home promising a discounted service but then they point out everything else that needs to be done.

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“Then they just have incremental fees on top of that.”

Read more: BBB investigates multiple complaints of fake garage door companies in Calgary

Tips to avoid furnace/duct scams and conflicts

Both companies, along with the BBB, have a number of tips for consumers to ensure they’re getting the right service.

  • Research the company’s background and licensing
  • Review warranty coverage
  • Check out company reviews on the internet
  • Find out about WCB coverage, liability insurance, criminal background checks
  • Compare prices and service packages

On that last point, all three add when it comes to pricing “cheaper is not always better”.

“In any industry, people need to take the time and initiative to really vet who they want coming into their private home to provide any services,” Elias said.

The BBB said not all fly-by-night companies are scams, but there are things people should still look out for.

“It’s not necessarily a scam, it could be a company that just set up for the season,” Thomas said, adding “if something should go wrong, close to the end of the season, or midway in the season, you may not be able to locate them again.

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“If they do shoddy work, there’s no way for you to contact them.”

More tips and a list of HVAC companies affiliated and vetted can be found at bbb.org.