Scammers damage legitimate contractors’ reputations
Earlier this year, several HVAC companies in the Northwest had their customer lists hacked. Scam artists falsely representing the HVAC companies called customers to say that it was time for a tune-up and scheduled work.
Once in the home, they pretended to do something with the furnace, got paid, and left. Others claimed there was something wrong with the furnace, offered to fix it for $995 (or some other amount), and took payment without ever performing a repair.
Other swindles—across the United States and Canada—have involved door-to-door salesmen pretending to represent reputable heating and air conditioning contractors, often enticing customers with artificially low prices and demanding money up-front. They end up installing equipment improperly or performing shoddy maintenance work. When a customer calls the actual contractor to complain, there is no record of the visit or repair.
In Georgia, scammers have targeted the clients of numerous HVAC contractors. Some contractors believe the scammers intruded into their system through an email with a hidden attachment, which, once opened, searched for their customer list. These scammers not only had the customers’ names, they had the customers’ past service history as well.
SMACNA contractor Russ Kimball of Evergreen State Heat & AC in Everett, Wash., has experience with scammers calling his customers and saying they are from his company.
Mr. Kimball urges his customers to call his business to confirm appointments or call if they have any doubts. He also has posted a scam alert warning on his website.
Although the vast majority of those duped are elderly, any trusting consumers can be victims—along with the legitimate HVAC contractors who were impersonated. What can you do to protect your customers and your reputation?
- Set and enforce an ethical code to build a solid reputation as an HVAC contractor.
- Make certain that technicians and sales people on the ground who interact with the public share company values.
- Ensure all of your vans or trucks are marked with your company name and that technicians have paperwork and uniforms with the business logo.
- Equip your computers with the latest security software.
- Maintain an updated website and post warnings to your website about contractor impersonation, perhaps identifying common scams or providing tips on how to choose a contractor.
- Encourage customers to call your business to confirm appointments if they have any doubts, to never give out personal information—such as social security numbers or credit card numbers—or pay in cash, and to always check the contractor’s license number.
- Offer to provide a second opinion and/or urge customers to get a second opinion from a different HVAC contractor.
- Schedule everything in advance and put everything in writing.
- Allow customers to see the parts you have purchased or replaced and watch the installation and service as it is being performed.
- Particularly when a customer has previously been cheated, listen and offer a sympathetic ear.
- Ask customers to report experiences with scammers to you or to local authorities.
For more information, check out these links:
“Fraudulent HVAC businesses target local seniors with scam,” HeraldNet
“Contractors vent about HVAC scams,” ACHR News
“HVAC Con Artist Alert!” HVAC Insider, Georgia Edition