BBB: Beware of air conditioning scams

Photo by Claudia Mack

Photo by Claudia Mack

Sweltering temperatures are bringing out scammers purporting to be reputable air conditioning inspection and repair businesses, according to the Better business Bureau serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia.

"While most air conditioning service and installation companies are reputable, as the humidity increases there are always a few companies that emerge with the goal of taking consumers' money for unnecessary repair work or equipment sales," a BBB press release states. "BBB encourages consumers not to give in to high-pressure sales tactics and to always do their homework before committing to spend any money."

BBB reports that scammers are using several tactics to get into consumers' pocketbooks, including advertising free air conditioner cleanings or tune-ups, then recommending more costly repairs than are actually required; applying pressure to replace existing units with brand new models; or marking up the price for replacement parts. In some cases, repairmen are removing parts or allowing coolant to escape, causing the air conditioner to stop working properly in an attempt to trick the consumer to believe a repair or new purchase is needed.

Pat Hayes, owner of The Air Conditioning Specialist Inc. in Covington, said there's one rule consumers can always trust: "You can't do anything for free. If someone says it's free, you should question yourself, why are they offering this in this market, when it's 100 degrees?"

Hayes said tune-ups usually run about $79. If a problem is found, the customer will be informed and can at that point make a decision whether to have the repair done. Repairs should not be done without first informing the customer of the problem and the cost, he said.

Hayes said he's seen advertisements for duct cleanings as low as $89, though the service typically runs $350 and up.

Air conditioning repair and installation companies have plenty of business right now, he said, and offering such cheap prices could be a sign something is amiss. Reputable companies also likely won't be coming door to door offering services.

Hayes also urged caution when using contractors that charge by the hour.

"We charge $69 to diagnose your system. If it takes one hour, 20 minutes, 30 minutes or four hours, it's $69. Once we determine the problem with the system, the tech will come back and say, 'We have found a bad contactor' or whatever, 'it's going to cost x amount of dollars'... it's a flat price that includes labor. It's basically like buying a hamburger. If you use a contractor who works by the hour, that's another place they can take advantage of you. If they don't have a lot to do today, they might wind up sitting in your back yard for a few hours."

The BBB stresses there is a difference between sending a technician out to provide a free estimate or quote as part of a sales process and trying to trick a consumer by offering free service with the intent to gain access to the home to defraud them or make a high pressure sales pitch.

"Anytime someone is faced with a pricey repair or new air conditioner purchase, the BBB recommends getting at least three quotes before you make a final decision," the press release states.

To screen a business before making a purchase, visit www.bbb.org or by calling 404-766-0875.