Police warn of chimney scams

A number of local residents have been swept away by an increasingly common chimney scam over the past two months, according to police.

The con artists go door-to-door and try and convince homeowners that their residence is due for a routine chimney cleaning or similar service, often targeting the elderly, who are more likely to believe the illegitimate contractors to be trustworthy.

The hoax is easily executed, police say, because victims are convinced that chimney cleaning or inspection is necessary to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning or fires. Additionally, the majority of residents are either unwilling or unable to climb to their roof to verify that the job was completed.

The scammers will often create a false urgency, insisting the work must be done that day for safety reasons, and frequently offering a “special discounted rate” to their so-called customers. They also consistently offer a better price for payments made in cash.

Chimney liners are usually presented by the con artists as the cure for unsafe chimneys, and homeowners are convinced that the immediate installation of these expensive items is crucial to their family’s safety. Victims are often charged for these liners, which are never or improperly installed. According to police, the improper installation of a chimney liner restricts the exhaust process which may lead to a sickening or potentially lethal build-up of carbon monoxide within the residence.

Other services often offered to residents are chimney waterproofing and chimney caps, neither of which are generally required.

Police say there are several precautions homeowners can take to prevent falling victim to chimney scams, including checking the yellow pages or the Better Business Bureau to find reputable chimney companies.

They also warn residents not to fall prey to telephone solicitors who insist it’s “time for your annual chimney cleaning.” Residents should ask for the company’s Connecticut Home Improvement Registration number, references and other pertinent information before committing to them, police say.

One of the most important rules to follow when hiring contractors, according to police, is to never make payments in cash.

It is also recommended that homeowners obtain three, separate written cost estimates from all contractors. Connecticut law requires that any written contract or proposal must include a three day notice of cancellation. The notice prohibits work from being carried out during that time, allowing the consumer three days in which to cancel the job and receive a full refund. During that period, consumers have the opportunity to review the proposed work, thereby allowing themselves enough time to make an informed decision.

While not all chimney sweep companies are swindlers, many honest contractors’ names have been tarnished by scam artists. However, police say most licensed contractors know how frequently chimney scams are executed and are more than willing to comply with any request to validate their legitimacy.

For any further question regarding home improvement scams, contact the Greenwich Police Department’s Detective Stempien at 203-622- 8023.

 

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