Here’s something most homeowners don’t know–the chimney sweeping industry is largely unregulated and unlicensed. Although standards have certainly become better in the last few years, we are still a group of contractors that are mostly “under the radar”. Unfortunately, that means we are also an industry that attracts scam artists. There are more than a few companies that habitually pop up in our area who are out to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners. We, the legitimate chimney contractors, fight them on a daily basis. But like any rodent or pest, they keep coming back.
How do you know if you’re the target of a scam company? Here are the biggest warning signs:
- Out of state vehicles—Scam companies are often coming from out of state (usually because they’re under criminal investigation in their own state). New York is the most common. Look for out-of-state plates on their vans or trucks.
- Prices that are too good to be true–$50.00 for a chimney sweep! That’s amazing! It’s also a scam. These companies will use low-ball initial prices to get in your door. Then, like a shady auto mechanic, they will mysteriously find thousands of dollars worth of repairs that need to be done.
- *On the spot repairs—Once they’ve found all those defects in your chimney, they will surprisingly have everything they need to repair them right in their truck. That is so unlikely as to be laughable. Never be bullied into immediate repairs. If a company is legitimate, they will submit a proposal and allow you time to get a second or third opinion.
- Insisting on cash payments—This one is easy. A legitimate chimney sweep will always be happy to take your check or credit card (if they accept them). I don’t think any contractor is going to turn down cash, but demanding it should be a huge warning sign.
- Cold calling—“Hi, we’re XYZ Chimney and we’re in your area next week and we have a special offer on sweeps.” If a sweep company is cold calling you, I guarantee it’s a scam. No legitimate company needs to or wants to cold call. If you’ve never heard of the company, and they haven’t worked on your house before, hang up the phone.
- Targeting the elderly, widows/widowers, veterans—This is the one that really infuriates me. Scam chimney companies will specifically target, through cold calls, mailers, or even knocking on your door, the members of our community they perceive as the most vulnerable. If you fall into one of those categories, be aware that scam artists are actively trying to steal your money. Also, keep an eye on your neighborhood. If you see strange work vehicles (again, look for out-of-state plates) in your area, speak up. Say something, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to notify authorities if you think a scam is going down. Better to be safe than sorry.
The chimney sweeping scams are out there, but you don’t have to be a victim. A little common sense awareness will keep you out of their grasp.
Best of Sweep’s Luck to you,