If one of your major home appliances breaks down, you’ll want it fixed as soon as possible. The first thing many people do is search online for local appliance repair businesses.
While most companies and their repairmen are honest and do a good job, there are some appliance repair scams on the internet you need to be aware of. Knowing the warning signs of these “bad actors” will save you money, and prevent possible damage to your appliances.
How Repair Scams Use Google to Trick You
Scammers have found numerous ways to misuse Google and Google Maps to trick you.
One major way is to create fake business listings on Google Maps, and register their addresses through Google’s business services. The verification of the business with a unique code sent through postcards, phone calls or emails is easy to bypass because it’s set up to avoid automated bot programs and not human scammers.
Another method scammers use is to hijack the name of a legitimate business on Google Maps and substitute their own phone number.
According to the Wall Street Journal, there are roughly 11 million false business listings on Google Maps, with hundreds of thousands showing up each month. At the same time, existing bogus company names and locations are constantly changing, creating a virtual minefield of phony businesses for searchers.
Scammers are also able to push their websites to the top of Google search results by buying ads. So when you search on the internet for an appliance repair site, the results nearest the top may not even be legitimate.
The Appliance Repair Scam
Here are some variations on how the appliance repair scam works:
- You have an appliance problem and search the internet for a repair company.
- You find a phone number either from Google Maps or directly from a website, and call what you believe is a local company.
- An appointment is made, usually for the next day, and a service fee is deducted immediately from your debit or credit card. This fee is supposed to be deducted from the final repair bill.
- No repairman shows up. When you call the number, there’s either no answer, or they say that there’s no record of the appointment. The company stalls until any credit card payment has gone through. You’re left with no repair, and the phony business has your credit or debit card number.
- A repairman does show up, and wants an initial payment before he repairs or even checks your appliance. If you refuse to pay upfront, the repairman leaves, and you’ve lost your “service fee”.
- When the repairman checks the appliance, he tells you he needs money to go buy a part, or for a special order.You give the repairman money for the part, but he never returns. If he does come back, he asks for more money before he starts working because the part costs more than expected.
- The repairman tells you it’s probably a simple repair. As he works on the appliance, he “discovers” the repair is very serious. It’s actually a simple one, but he installs parts that are unnecessary and expensive to run up your bill.
- You leave the repairman alone, and when you check in he informs you there’s extensive damage. The repairman has actually caused the damage himself in order to charge you more for the “repairs”.
- The repairman is unqualified, and can’t fix the appliance. He actually does more damage, leaving you with a bigger problem and a repair bill.
- The repairman spends a short amount of time “fixing” the appliance, but doesn’t install any new parts that are listed on the bill. You pay him for new parts and his time, but he hasn’t deducted the initial service fee as promised from the bill. The result is your appliance still doesn’t work, and the company gives you the runaround on your service fee and non repair.
How to Protect Yourself From Appliance Scams
Criminals running appliance repair scams count on you needing a repair in a hurry because often it’s an emergency situation. Here are some ways your can protect yourself from phony companies, even if you need fast service:
- Keep a contact list of recommended companies. Your warranty paperwork should have a phone number and website to help you find a list of local authorized repair companies. If the warranty period is up, you also have the option of asking family and friends who they use and trust.
- Understand your warranty — the length, who does repairs, and any fees.
- Make sure several methods of payment are acceptable (you can stop credit card payments).
- Ask if the repairman has the required licenses for your city or state. In Texas, for example, you need a license for refrigeration or electrical work. Is his license number on his invoice, business card, or vehicle? Does his vehicle display his business or company name?
- An estimate in writing on a professional form should be presented on the initial visit before work begins, and this is where you’re made aware of all the issues. If the estimate seems high, bring in another company. An honest estimate should protect you from sudden doubling or tripling of costs.
- Only pay for the work that’s been done. Don’t pay upfront fees.
- Set up an approval process for any parts that need to be ordered. Be sure to see any parts the repairman says need installing, and always ask to see the defective parts being replaced.
- Agree to a time frame for the work to be completed.
- Observe the repairman so he can’t deliberately damage your appliance.
One of your best protections is careful research of the companies you find in your search:
- Confirm the business name and check the status of the company with the Better Business Bureau, and the Texas Secretary of State Business Search.
- Choose a company with employees who have passed background checks.
- Verify the company address you found on Google Maps by checking it on Street View. Phony appliance repair companies often use an address belonging to a different business (e.g. drugstore, bank), or a made-up one for a vacant lot or space.
- Screen the phone number. Businesses with nothing to hide will give you the name of the actual company represented on the internet, and whether they have a physical office and where it’s located. You might actually be talking to an out-of-state lead-generation call center that wants to connect you to someone who can help in your area.
- Verify that the pricing and level of service offered by the company is what you’re expecting.
- Be cautious with reviews. Fake sites pay for fictitious five star reviews. Watch for repeated, vague praise (e.g. “excellent service”, “the best”) in a number of reviews posted around the same time. Check out any available profiles for reviewers to see if they’ve left nonspecific, short reviews for different service providers in multiple cities.
If You Do Get Scammed
- Report it to the local police, and the Better Business Bureau on its online Scam Tracker.
- You can also file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General.
- Stop any credit card payments, and ask your credit card company for chargebacks for fraudulent charges.
- Cancel any compromised debit or credit cards.
C&W Appliance Service has been a trusted name since 1957. For prompt, professional service that you can always count on, call us at 855-358-1496 or complete our online service request form.