Corrupt service companies are cropping up in major US cities like weeds in a neglected garden. The seeds for this were sewn by the increase in expensive high-end appliances during the last housing boom. Widespread abuse has grown in the form of fraudulent and negligent repair practices.
Crafty and slippery marketing prowess is swindling desperate and economically strapped consumers and making it difficult for honest firms to compete. These unscrupulous and unethical repair companies purposely mis-diagnose, and replace parts as “faulty,” regardless of their condition, then charge high fees, forcing consumers into a corner.
Similarly, in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, fraud and negligence in the television repair industry accelerated. Consumer and law enforcement agencies were inundated with complaints. The TV industry experienced tremendous growth during the 1950s, and TV sets were relatively expensive household purchases. For many, replacing a failed TV was not an option. Demand for TV repair services escalated. While today the price of TV sets has dropped considerably, the same cannot be said for kitchen appliances, some of which can sell for ten thousand dollars. When they go wrong there are sharks ready to feed. Here are some examples of what can go wrong, followed by tips on how to arm against fraud
On a recent service call, I found work by one of the most deceptive and exploitative repair companies I’ve ever encountered in my 46 year career. This company charged over $4,500 for two separate visits to repair a broken ice maker in a Sub-Zero refrigerator. On the first visit the owner was charged over $2,000 for a new ice maker, which I discovered had never been installed. On the second visit, they charged $2,500 for an ice maker water valve which was brand new, but not the correct part. It was left dangling under the refrigerator.
This same company attempted to charge $2,500 on a call for another Sub-Zero refrigerator. The estimate listed four separate parts where only one was needed. Fortunately, the customer sensed foul play and called me for a second opinion. I made the repair for one-fifth the cost. To make matters worse, the guarantee stipulated the following: “Thirty day warranty on parts, ninety days on electrical parts only. All parts listed on the estimate were electrical.” It goes on to state other erroneous facts and the terms:” Strictly Net Cash Only Upon Completion of Work. Checks Not Acceptable.” That’s a hefty amount of money for only 90 days of protection.
These are clear signs of deceit. Reputable companies want you as a customer and will go out of their way to serve you. They have longer warranties and will accept checks and credit cards because it makes good business sense. Don’t be fooled. Here are some precautions and signs.
First, verify if a company accepts credit-cards. Banks and other financial institutions perform background checks and keep records of complaints. We live in a credit based society. Refusing to accept credit-cards is akin to eliminating approximately 70% of all business. Any legitimate service company would, at the very least, accept checks if not credit-cards. A demand for cash only is a warning. Make sure that any such company has an honest record or find one that has. Companies that accept only cash are usually here today and gone tomorrow.
Another common practice to be wary of is an offer to waive the service charge if work is performed. This is a tactic to lure you in. It seems as if you are saving money, but more often than not, companies raise the prices on parts to compensate for dropping the service charge.
Additionally, a company’s warranty can say a lot about its philosophy. Honorable companies usually provide longer warranty periods and are more interested in keeping you as a customer. They will go out of their way to keep in touch. This is a sign of responsible and good business practice. Long term relationships are always more profitable for businesses than fly-by-night methods.
As for the service technicians themselves, they represent the company. How well do they behave? Are they courteous? Well mannered? Knowledgable? As an example, a consumer contacted me last week because he was dissatisfied when his refrigerator was serviced. He was afraid to call the technicians back, because they looked liked “thugs.” He was wise. They had botched-up his refrigerator, charged him a small fortune and to make matters worse, left it inoperable.
This scenario is repeated everyday in every major city. Some companies will go so far as to scrape off the serial number from your appliance so they can charge you the full price for parts that should otherwise be under warranty.
So how do you find a good service company? If you scan the yellow-pages directory, be careful and discriminating. Big ads usually mean higher operating expenses which are factored into the cost of repair. But small ads or no ads are no guarantee either. If undecided, try asking someone you trust for a recommendation, such as a building manager, friend, relative, or neighbor. Also, consumer protection agencies keep files of complaints from suspect companies; that can be a good place to start.
The internet, though not totally reliable, can provide a comprehensive list of reputable service companies. When doing a search online, the ads at the top and right side are paid advertising. About midway down the first page are the organic listings. But search engines provide priority of listings to the ads that gain most internet traffic. This can be a sticky point because companies can hire media experts to write up false reviews, thus enhancing a company’s position.
Wading through a plethora of websites offering repairs can be daunting. Homeowner-to-homeowner referral websites are helpful. One of the more respected is Angie’s List. On this site, paid and registered subscribers provide reviews which are then graded from A to F. Participating contractors are investigated with stringent tests. No contractor can pay to be on the list or report for his own company. Angie’s List employees must check every single report to prevent deception.
In a perfect world you’d have a black book filled with the names of reliable contractors who provide top-notch service at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, choice usually boils down to common sense and awareness. If you’re suspicious don’t dive in. Companies you can trust are out there.