Chief: Beware the Chimney Sweep Scam
Grafton Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau Jr. says this is a particularly easy way for scammers to cheat unsuspecting homeowners.
I recently received a call from a company offering a very good deal on having my chimney cleaned. The company was from out of state but stated they were working in the area. I was going to have someone come over but I then remembered speaking with some friends who told me that they knew people who had been scammed from an out of state chimney sweep company. Do you have any information regarding chimney sweep scams?
Chimney repair and chimney cleaning scams have been 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 a typical chimney repair and cleaning scam works:
The company, usually from out of state, will contact you via email, phone, etc. and offers you a special on chimney cleaning for a ridiculously low price. If you've just moved into a new home, they may say that the previous residents (and mention their names to add credibility) used their company. They may also say that they are working in the neighborhood and the offer is only good for a day or two until their finished in the area.
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 poisoning. They often claim that it's really lucky you caught the leak now since it could be fatal.
Another common scam is for the con artists to claim you need a new liner. Liners are made of clay, cast concrete or metal to contain the fire and direct it upwards and they are expensive.
Unfortunately, these scammers often claim good liners need to be replaced. They may even go so far as to break off pieces of the liner with a hammer, claiming they broke off in their hand to show just how deteriorated it is. Even worse, they install new liners in the wrong size or only line part of the chimney, which can be very dangerous.
Most scammers will make it a point to prey on the elderly who are more trusting and have no knowledge of chimneys and want to make sure that their homes are safe. Stating that the repairs need to be done immediately or serious consequences could result makes it even easier for scammers to con unsuspecting homeowners.
Another tactic used by these individuals, especially for the so-called chimney repairs, is to state that the homeowner will save hundreds of dollars if they pay for the repairs up front and in cash.
To help you avoid being scammed by these individuals, the Grafton Police Department would like to offer the following safety tips from the National Chimney Sweep Guild and the Chimney Safety Institute of America:
- Don't fall for low prices. If someone offers you a price that seems too good to be true, compare with other chimney sweep or repair contractors. An inspection will probably cost about $75 and a chimney cleaning should go for at least $150 and take at least an hour.
- Always ask for and check references…especially if they say they are working in the neighborhood. Tell them you want some of the addresses they have been to while in the area.
- Don't let anyone pressure you into fast action. Shop around and get two or three bids before you make your decision regarding which company to use.
- Check to make sure the company is licensed and doesn't have a lot of complaints. Not all areas require licensing, but many do. It may be worthwhile to consider if the chimney sweep is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
- Make sure the company has up-to-date liability insurance.
Information on chimney repair/cleaning scams may be found at www.scambusters.org/chimneyrepair.
Anyone with questions for the Chief’s Column may submit them by mail to the Grafton Police Department, 28 Providence Road, Grafton, MA 01519. You may also email your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include an appropriate subject line, as I do not open suspicious email for obvious reasons.
Normand A. Crepeau, Jr.
Chief of Police