Warning about Chimney Scams

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – With all the nice weather lately, it may not feel like it but winter is here. For many, it's time to get their chimneys inspected and make sure everything is working properly. It's not just safety you have to worry about, con artists are targeting neighborhoods looking to make a quick buck.

The folks at Cougots Chimney Service are making the rounds, their mission, safety and service. "Unfortunately in our industry, the warning signs come very late in the game, right before there is potentially some serious issues," said owner Dan Fitzpatrick.

He recommends you get an inspection once a year and says, "Its when you go year after year after year with consistent burning that you put yourself at risk."

A big risk is a chimney fire. But as you think about safety, you should also be concerned with your money. Fitzpatrick says crooks usually pop-up during the Winter months, targeting homeowners looking for a good deal.

"They show up in the middle of Winter. A lot of times they are from out of the area they may have number that calls somewhere out of state," Fitzpatrick told us.

Like with any service, you have to do your homework. Get several estimates, and never feel pressured to sign anything. Fitzpatrick says ask yourself some questions.

"Are they a local company? Do they have an office? Can you find them registered with Virginia Department of Occupational and Professional Regulation," he said.

You can also check to see if the company is registered with the National Chimney Sweep Guild. Experts say a big red flag, is when a chimney contractor rushes you into buying and installing a chimney liner. Among many things, it's used to prevent heat and sparks from reaching combustible material in your home that can cause a fire.

"That doesn't mean your chimney doesn't need one but they are going to push for it right away, whether you need it or not because it is the highest ticket item in our business," Fitzpatrick said.

Also remember, don't just take the contractors word for it. If they tell you something is wrong with the inside of your chimney, they should be able to show you proof by using either a video camera or a digital camera.

"Sign here, you need this work, lets go right away your house is going to burn down. That sort of mentality should all be red flags for the consumer," said Fitzpatrick.

Also keep in mind, if a fraudulent contractor gets access to your home, you run the risk of not only losing money but work being done improperly, putting you and your family's safety at risk. The experts say also watch for crooks offering sky high prices or prices that are too low. The Better Business Bureau says an average Chimney Sweep will cost you about 150 to 200 bucks.

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