There seems to have been a resurgence in duct cleaning scams on Facebook.
They're a familiar sight to any member of local discussion, garage sale, and events groups; they’re always written similarly, offering large discounts on duct cleaning and HVAC services, usually posted by new group members.
Nicole Fernell with Fresh Air Furnace Cleaners is no stranger to the posts, as she belongs to several local groups and will often reply to inquiries from locals looking for duct cleaning recommendations.
She keeps an eye out for the posts and has even heard from a few people who have had dealings with these alleged scammers.
The posts have become so prevalent that she wrote a post of her own on the Fresh Air Furnace Cleaners page to warn locals about them.
Fernell is hoping other people notice the trend and start being able to identify them.
"They'll create these posts that say 'unlimited ducts, the first ten people to comment get a special deal, believe my work not my words,' but they never post a business name, they never post a business number, if you comment they'll say 'I'll PM you.'"
Within the last few weeks, many of the posts have adopted different language, appealing to group members to “support local.”
"I started seeing ones (that say) 'we're a locally owned and operated business,' that's something I say in my posts. They'll say 'we're a family that's gone through so much lately, is anybody interested in having their furnace cleaned because we need to make some money.' I'm seeing more and more posts every day with different storylines," says Fernell.
A lot of the newer posts will use the hashtage #smallbusinesschallenge to appeal to locals.
Aside from the way they’re written, Fernell has also noticed some trends in the profiles that post them.
"You'll see it's a newly created profile who's just joined that group usually within the last couple of weeks. Almost every one I've come across, I've noticed: new profile, newly joined the group."
The profiles almost always list “self-employed” in the work section of the profile, and will have posted several pictures in one day to make it look like an active profile.
The posts will often have a few comments praising the poster’s services, also from similarly fake-looking profiles who are sometimes friends with the original poster.
People who comment on the posts with genuine inquiries will always get a response saying the original poster will private message (PM) them back.
Fernell says that’s not a red flag in and of itself, as it’s something she’s done with clients before in order to gauge the scope of the job, but she’s spoken with residents who have responded to these private messages, given over some personal info, and then been promptly blocked by the fake profile.
She’s also heard from people who carried through and booked an appointment where someone actually showed up in an unmarked van, entered the customer’s home, and did an incomplete job.
"We've gone in, multiple times after people say 'we just got our furnace cleaned but nothing has changed,' and we go in and just the top of the vent has been cleaned, so they don't push anything through the ducts or main duct work, they don't clean the fan, they don't clean the filter, nothing. It's basically just what you see when you look at the vents, the top of it is clean but they don't do anything on the inside."
Others have told her that these profiles have requested money upfront, and blocked the customer as soon as the money was sent over.
All this has made Facebook an inhospitable place for genuine duct cleaning businesses, with group admins often banning genuine duct cleaning businesses due to the sheer amount of scam posts they’re having to deal with.
It’s also created a problem for residents who require duct cleaning services but are too scared to reach out because of how prevalent scams are within that industry.
Fernell says the best way to avoid being scammed is to be thorough with your research, and to try and connect with the business via phone to get a feel for them.
"Just make sure you do your research. Make sure you're looking for a business name, a website, reviews. Talk to the business if you can. I know a lot of people these days go through email or messenger, but I think a good conversation is well worth it.
“Whether they show up or not, scam or not, it's good to know, do they have a social media presence? Do they have a website? Do they have reviews? Do they have proper equipment? Do they have business licenses to work in your community?"
She’ll also make sure to report the posts to group admins and comment on them to indicate that something may be off in order to save residents who might not be aware of these posts.