Fraudulent HVAC businesses target local seniors with scam

EVERETT — The scam has been making its way around the Pacific Northwest, including Snohomish County.

People pretending to represent real heating and air conditioning businesses are bilking homeowners and pressuring them into paying for shoddy work.

In some cases, they are selling and installing equipment improperly, the Oregon Construction Contractors Board reported in January. They sometimes go door-to-door or call homeowners by phone. Their prime targets are people over 65.

In the Willamette Valley, at least 10 licensed contractors reported people fraudulently claiming to be affiliated with their businesses.

In Snohomish County, local businesses are hearing from confused customers. They report that they are getting suspicious calls from people claiming to work for area businesses. The scammers then try to set up in-home furnace maintenance or service repairs.

It troubles Russell Kimball who with his wife has owned Evergreen State Heat &AC in Everett for nearly 18 years. His company recently posted a warning on its website.

“They are going in under the auspices of somebody else,” he said.

Sometimes, the scammers try to entice with an artificially low price, he said.

Kimball doesn’t want to see people cheated. Nor does he want crooks using the names of his company and other businesses to profit.

He told the story of one couple in their 70s. After an initial meeting with actual representatives from Evergreen, they received a call telling them that they would see an installer in two days at their home and they should have payment ready.

The call wasn’t from Evergreen. It hadn’t even ordered any equipment.

The woman told the phony company, which contacted her three times from different phone numbers, that she would call the police if someone showed up at her house.

Kimball hoped to catch the scammers when one of his customers became suspicious after receiving an unsolicited call. They’d planned to show up when the phony worker arrived to get a license plate and photo of the vehicle. Kimball believes the scammer sensed something amiss, because he never showed up.

He’s urging his customers to call his business to confirm appointments if they have any doubts.

He also is reminding people that all of his company’s vans are marked and its technicians will have paperwork and uniforms with the business logo.

Scam experts offer several pieces of advice:

  • Ask to check your calendar and say you’ll call back. Then, call the business you regularly use to verify any appointments.
  • Never give out personal information, such as a social Security or credit card number or pay in cash.
  • Always check a construction contractor’s license number to verify a worker is legitimate.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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