Illinois Attorney General
Madigan filed the lawsuit Jan. 27 against Moshe Kesem of Schaumberg, Ill., and his two companies, Warranty USA Inc. and Air Duct Cleaning Pros. The suit says that Kesum showed consumers fake pictures of extensive mold or mildew damage to their homes to convince them to buy additional services that they did not request or approve.
The BBB has taken more than 60 complaints about Air Duct Cleaning Pros in the last three years, including several in the St. Louis area. In many of the cases, the company advertised that it would clean ducts for $79 or $89. Once the company did the work, they billed customers for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Air Duct Cleaning Pros has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible.
“The company targeted vulnerable seniors and deceived homeowners into purchasing services they didn’t need,” said Madigan. “Consumers should know illegitimate contractors are always scamming people out of their hard-earned money. So homeowners need to investigate contractors before signing contracts and beginning projects.”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said that reports on file with the BBB in Chicago paint a portrait of a company that uses advertised specials to obtain access to consumers’ homes, and then uses high-pressure sales tactics to get them to pay for additional work.
“This appears to be a classic bait-and-switch that tempts consumers with low-cost offers and then hits them with a variety of add-ons,” Corey said. “To say that this raises ethical concerns is certainly an understatement.”
In November, the St. Louis BBB issued a press release warning that Air Duct Cleaning Pros was actively soliciting business in the St. Louis area. Consumers said that they called the company about the advertised offer, then were shown photos purporting to show extensive mold or mildew in their ducts. The cost of the work was often 10 or more times the advertised price.
An 86-year-old widow from Glen Carbon, Ill., told the BBB that a company employee coerced her to pay $500 in October, after she responded to an advertising flyer for a $79 duct-cleaning special. She said that when she stopped payment on her check, a company official became so threatening that “I was afraid to sleep for two nights.”
Five homeowners in one neighborhood answered the ad. At least two of them said they were shown the same pictures of dirty ducts by employees of Air Duct Cleaning Pros.
Madigan said Kesem regularly tacked fraudulent charges onto bills to address fictional problems. He targeted seniors for services they didn’t need and often charged them for word he didn’t do. One consumer said she paid $2,494 to get Kesem and his workers to leave her home.
Madigan’s lawsuit alleges violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Home Repair and Remodeling Act. She asked Cook County Circuit Court to bar Kesem from working in the home repair trade in Illinois. The suit also seeks to cancel pending contracts and obtain restitution for consumers victimized by the company.
Air duct cleaning scams are rampant in many areas. On Sunday, Jan. 30, the NBC program Dateline aired a piece produced with the BBB and consumers in the Huntsville, Ala., area. The piece is online at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600/#/41303740.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges consumers to be wary of any company that makes sweeping promises that air duct cleaning will improve residents’ health. The EPA suggests cleaning in cases where there is visible mold growth, vermin infestation or the ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris. The agency says that homeowners need to fully understand the pros and cons of using chemical treatments.
The BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to hire a duct-cleaning firm:
- Deal only with reputable companies, preferably businesses in your area with a good track record. Ask for references from homeowners in your neighborhood. Always contact the BBB for a Reliability Report by going to www.bbb.org or calling 314-645-3300.
- Beware of advertising that offers what seem to be extremely low prices for air duct cleaning. Often, these ads are used by businesses expecting to sell additional services once they get inside your home.
- If a company discovers a potential problem in your furnace or ducts, do not be pressured into paying for additional services until you have contacted a heating and air conditioning professional for a second opinion. While the second company may charge you for a service call to check out the problem, the call may save you money if not service is needed.
- Try to have a friend or family member with you during a scheduled appointment with a salesman or service technician. If that is not possible and you feel threatened or intimidated during the visit, ask the person or persons to leave your home immediately. If they refuse or hesitate, call your local police.
The BBB advises consumers to check out a company’s Reliability Report before doing business. Reports are available at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300 during business hours.