With the cold weather here, this is not only prime time for people having their furnace serviced or upgraded. It's also prime time for scam artists looking to take your money.
The Better Business Bureau says complaints involving furnace companies are up 16%.
The most common scams involve fear and scare tactics to try and convince you to buy a new furnace or expensive, but unneeded, repairs or upgrades.
At Laney's in Fargo they've seen some of the horror stories first hand.
"We've been called in many times after the fact when someone has been either scammed or received work that was sub-par" said Co-owner Kevin Wolf.
So he agreed to show us some of the things you can ask and look for to make sure the company you're dealing with is legit.
"Our sales staff will have a book that holds info about our licensing, our policies and also references."
According to the BBB, asking to see a company's license, certifications and insurance cards is the first thing you should ask any heating contractor. Especially one that just shows up at your door.
The BBB's Steve Farr said, "A lot of times, particularly with those door to door sales situations, fear becomes the sales tactic."
One of the most common lies: your existing furnace is dangerous.
"It's too easy for someone to put undo pressure on a consumer to make a snap decision like that," said Farr.
If any part of the conversation doesn't feel right, say you need time to think it over. Then ask important question number 2: "Can I get that in writing?"
A legitimate company like Laney's will do a full written estimate and proposal sheet. It will lay out the work they're going to do and how much it's going to cost.
The BBB recommends you get at least two estimates for all furnace work, and ask every company important question number 3: "What are your local references?"
Experts say it's also a good idea to background check any heating company with your local Chamber of Commerce or Home Builder's Association.
You can also look at the Better Business Bureau web site. It has info about customer service history and if someone's ever filed a complaint.
The cool autumn weather has arrived and, for many people, now is the ideal time to have your furnace serviced or upgraded before the busy winter season starts. The Better Business Bureau warns the public to be cautious about misleading heating contractors who may use scare tactics to convince homeowners to buy a new furnace or authorize expensive, but unneeded, repairs to their existing heating system.
"At this time of year we see an increase in complaints about heating contractors offering everything from duct cleaning to furnace inspections," says Lynda Pasacreta, BBB President and CEO. "While most furnace companies are reputable, competent, and fair, there are fraudulent and unethical companies that may try to frighten consumers into unnecessary installations or repairs using fear as their main tactic."
Last fall, the BBB received complaints about a heating contractor making unsolicited phone calls offering inexpensive, even free, cleaning services, only to show up with inadequate equipment and recommendations for expensive and unnecessary upgrades.
BBB has also received reports in the past of fraudulent contractors soliciting door-to-door and attempting to frighten consumers into purchasing a new heating system with warnings that their current system was leaking dangerous gases that could explode or poison those inside the house.
Last year, BBB received 61 complaints against businesses in this industry. So far this year, BBB has already received 71 complaints.
Before you choose a heating contractor consider the following tips:
Start with the BBB. You can find out helpful information like owners, company addresses, and customer service information by visiting the company's reliability report at: http://minnesota.bbb.org/
Hire heating contractors who:
· Are or employ certified gas fitters
· Are bonded and insured for liability and property damage
· Can provide you a copy of the gas permit authorizing the company to work on your heating system
· Offer warranties that cover equipment, materials and labor
· Offer maintenance and service after installation and after warranties have expired
· Provide customer references
Get at least two estimates for the work. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used.
Compare more than just cost. Check the size and rated efficiency of the equipment each contractor recommends. Ask each contractor how they arrived at recommending a particular sized system. Check the warranty offered and make certain you understand it.
Report misleading door-to-door sales practices. Direct sales contracts can be canceled for any reason within 10 days of the consumer receiving a copy of the contract.