The man seemed to be offering a good deal — $40 to clean a chimney — but the Woodstocker who took the bait soon discovered he was being scammed and had no way to recover his money. He hopes other residents will profit from his experience and not be tempted by solicitations from repair contractors offering deals too good to be true.
The chimney scam was reported to the Ulster County District Attorney’s Division of Consumer Affairs, where Senior Consumer Advocate Patrick T. Long cautions homeowners to be wary of any contractors who “call or show up on your doorstep out of the blue. Paving and chimney cleaning are the most common scams. There are also people who call pretending to be Central Hudson and say they’re going to shut off your electricity unless you send them money.”
The chimney cleaner told the Woodstock homeowner he needed a 15-foot stainless steel flue liner to prevent fires, at a cost of $900. He paid in cash and signed a contract that said he would get a full refund if there were any problems with the work. When he inspected the chimney and found the installed flue liner was four feet too short, the contractor, reached at first by cell phone, said he would return the money and then became unreachable. The Postal Service says his business address in Poughkeepsie is incorrect, and the business phone number on the contract is non-functional.
According to Long, the chimney service trade is not regulated, nor are chimney sweeps licensed in New York State. (For additional information, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s website at www.csia.org.)
Consumer Affairs periodically sends out press releases reminding residents not to hire a chimney sweep or a paver who calls or shows up at your door unsolicited, without first checking references. Be suspicious if an extremely low price is offered. Make sure any contractor you are thinking to hire is local and not from another county or state, regardless of what the person claims.
Customers are advised to be especially wary of pressure to have the work done immediately. A written contract is always advisable, and you should call any phone numbers supplied to be sure they are viable. Make a note of license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions.
Don’t give out any information
Caller ID has been celebrated as a defense against unwanted telemarketing calls, but it has been circumvented by scam artists through a process called spoofing. Telemarketers (legitimate or otherwise) are increasingly disguising their real identities and phone numbers to provoke people to pick up the phone, as when a local area code appears. This technique is often used by debt collectors or companies that promise to help consumers reduce their credit card payments or other debts. Consumer Affairs suggests never giving out personal information in response to an incoming call, as identity thieves often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies to get people to reveal account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, and other identifying information. If a utility or government agency calls seeking personal information, don’t provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement or on the company or agency’s website to verify the call.
A common tactic scammers employ is to demand payment for a bill that is allegedly overdue. If the caller demands a credit card or prepaid money card number over the phone, it’s a scam. If you get one of these calls, simply hang up. Again, if you’re in doubt that it’s a scam, call the company for verification.
The Ulster County District Attorney’s Division of Consumer Affairs can be reached at (845) 340-3260.