Learn the Signs of an Air Conditioning Scam
This is a true story that occurred a few weeks ago that we feel needs to be shared. If nothing else, it may shed some light on how to protect yourself from being scammed by a dubious air conditioning firm.
Mary, is an $81 year old woman, living alone in a +55 condo community in Palm Beach Country, Florida. Several years ago, she bought a whole house maintenance agreement, which mandated they have their air conditioner as part of the agreement, even though it was already still covered by the air conditioning warranty.
With Summer’s heat building, the provider of that agreement called to offer her what they called a “discounted annual checkup” for only $60. She thought that that sound fair and scheduled an appointment. The following day, a technician came to her condo, climbs up onto his ladder and comes back down in roughly 20 minutes, only to share the bad news that her air conditioner, and the duct work, were loaded with mold. He even showed her photos on his smartphone. He described the dangers of mold, especially for the elderly and began talking her through the the two quotations – one for a full mold mitigation program and what it entailed, and another, a full replacement of the entire air conditioning system. The less expensive approach ran nearly $2000 !! What she didn’t realize, was that she was being scammed.
A Little Background
Roughly nine years earlier, Mary and her now deceased husband Marty, were having an annual air conditioning tuneup performed on their roughly 20 years old air conditioning system. The company they hired, came down from the roof and told them that their A/C unit was making noise, and was likely to fail and said that it may not last another month. He even showed them a piece metal that had rusted and fallen off of the unit as proof.
Marty wasn’t the kind of man who trusted many people here in South Florida, so he wasn’t just going to jump at the first offer. He would never just say, “OK – do it”, but rather, he would research for less expensive options, while getting a second opinion. Through a referral, Berkun Air of West Palm Beach was called to check out the system. The following day, Jeff Berkun, the owner of Berkun Air, came to their home and examined the systems. He told Marty that the system was old, and roughly 20 years old. He said that it was in running condition and in no way, did he feel that it was going to fail shortly. He did however, talk to them about a more energy efficient unit that would save them on their monthly utility bill and pay for the system over the coming years. What he didn’t do however, is pressure them into buying a systems. He instead, simply provided the facts and said that the decision was theirs.
Armed with the information from Berkun, Marty thought about it and called to have a more energy efficient unit installed.
Fast forward to today
Since that time, Marty had passed on and his wife Mary was now responsible for the condo. Some years ago, for some unknown reason, Mary purchased a whole home maintenance agreement, hoping to save some money in maintaining her condo. What most homeowners don’t know is that most of these home maintenance agreements are dubious to start with. If people take the time and study a whole home maintenance agreement, they are always written to provide clauses that end up costing the home owner. It’s all spelled out in the small print.
As it turned out, the whole home maintenance agreement was sold to Mary by one of the largest air conditioning firms in Palm Beach County. Last week, this company called to tell her that it was time for her annual A/C checkup. As noted above, the technician came over, climbed his ladder to perform the tuneup, and then came back down with the bad news of mold. What we didn’t say above, was that Mary was asthmatic and this was something that had to be addressed quickly. But Mary was smart. She said she would get back to them and immediately called her brother over to help her deal with her immediate situation.
The first thing he did was to look over the quote. He then asked Mary if she had any paperwork on the air conditioning unit knowing that it wasn’t that old. She told her husband the air conditioner was purchased from Berkun Air and that her husband that he was a straight shooter, so they called Berkun Air to come and give a second opinion.
Later that afternoon, Jeff Berkun, the owner, arrived to examine the unit. He too took pictures, but they were nothing like what she had seen. Jeff noted that there was no sign of mold and that she was likely being set up for a scam. Jeff assured her that there was nothing wrong with her air conditioning that a simple cleaning wouldn’t resolve, but by no means was there mold.
Mary asked us to perform a cleaning of the unit, and to do the tuneup while they were at it. Berkun charged Mary $350 for everything, and saved her roughly $1,650 in the process.
Phony Photos on Smart Phones
Mary told Berkun that she saw pictures of the mold, but did she? A common trick in the industry is for a dubious air conditioning technicians to have his phone pre-loaded with a variety of images that showed a variety of problems. She never saw him take pictures, but people assume that the pictures are of their system.
When you see photos like this, scan through their photos to see what other photos are nearby. Check to see if they are the most recent pictures at the end of the camera roll. If there are other photos showing other air conditioning units failing, understand that you might be being scammed.
What can you do to avoid this situation, pay attention to the quote and what it says.
Technicians Paid Bonus on Sales
Some of these firms that call into +55 communities pay cold callers to target 55+ communities. They are easy targets, especially older, single woman. If you find yourself with a technician trying to sell you something, assume that they are paid a commission. Never sign a contract that day. Get a second opinion.
At Berkun Air, we don’t feel that it is in the best interest of our customers to pay our technicians a sales commission to sell things. We prefer to pay them a good salary and be as honest as we can, providing useful information for them to make an informed decision. We are in business for the long haul and feel that people remember honesty.
When An A/C Tune-Up Suddenly Gets Expensive
If you find yourself biting on a discounted A/C tuneup, and the technician has bad news, immediately put your guard up and seek a second opinion from a trusted air conditioning firm. Nine times out of ten, you are being set up for a potential scam.
Check Online Reviews First
Before you allow air conditioning companies into your home, check out online reviews and be prepared. It’s very easy to check what others think about a company if you have access to the internet. If you don’t, ask a friend that does have internet access to help. Here are a few sources listed below.
Online Review Sources
This should be one of the most obvious first sources for online reviews. Go to Google online and search for: “Company Name Reviews”.
With Google Maps, simply search for the company on the map search box if you know approximately where they are based. The example our = company will show you where to look. And yes, we are tooting our horn 🙂
Rip Off Report .com
This is becoming one of the most popular sites for people who are reporting big problems. This isn’t a site where people post happy stories, but rather, the big problems people encounter with a problematic company. If you see a lot of postings for a given company here – run.
Yelp.com These two sites are popular with many for leaving online reviews.
Facebook. Any reputable company will have a good Facebook page. If they don’t, often it is because it is too easy for a angry customers to post a complaint or a bad review.
Founded in 1982, Jeff Berkun has run his business based on providing customers with outstanding service and expert advise. What we won’t do is mislead customers with misleading ads that sound too good to be true. We won’t offer you home maintenance programs that are just as misleading. We would rather treat our customers with respect looking at the longer term picture. We do this by educating them a bit on all things air conditioning and what to look for. If you have a question, or need help, give us a jingle. We promise you’ll be impressed. Call Berkun Air at (561) 842-4362.
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