It's every homeowners nightmare...disgusting mold contaminating your home. Some houses even have to be destroyed when the problem gets too severe.
But would a licensed contractor tell you that you have a mold problem even if you didn't?
To find out, we had a home in Birmingham, Alabama inspected by experts from three different companies. They looked at the airducts, examined the vents, and checked for water damage. What was the verdict of all three experts?
Mike Collins of GLE Associates said, "There is not a mold problem in this house."
We then answered an advertisement from Advanced Air Quality that was offering a great deal. Just $49.95 to clean the air ducts in our home.
We made an appointment, but first we placed hidden cameras throughout the house.
When the technicians arrived, INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero was posing as the homeowner. They looked all over the house, and after a 30 minute inspection, they told Guerrero the bad news.
Joe from Advanced Air Quality said, "You tested positive for mold in the outside unit."
"This is a mold test?" asked Guerrero.
"Yes," replied Joe.
"And it tested positive for mold?" asked Guerrero.
"You failed dramatically," said Joe.
What these guys didn't know was that we had sent in an undercover producer to apply for a job with the company, Advanced Air Quality.
"(There's an) Opportunity here to make $100,000 dollars a year, no bull____," said Ed Pero, the man training new employees.
Pero has been running businesses like these for years and he knows you can't get rich cleaning airducts for $49.95.
Pero said to the trainees, "Ok, I promise you, ok we're going to find mold, ok?
The unsuspecting salesman at our home also showed Guerrero a vent pulled from the bathroom.
Guerrero asked, "What is that?"
"It's from the master bedroom," said the assistant.
Guerrero looked at the vent and asked, "That's mold on there?"
"Yeah, the reason why these rust out is mold attaches itself and eats right through the paint," said the technician.
But mold expert Shannon Sutton from Terrell Techincal Services said that is bogus. He didn't seen any mold on that vent.
"No, I certainly do not. What he is referring to is obviously rust," said Sutton.
Guerreror asked, "So he's trying to scare me?"
"Yes," said Sutton.
So what's it going to cost? A lot more than $49.95.
He told her it would cost, "$1114.96."
"Wow, that's a lot of money," said Guerrero.
When she complained about the price, he called his manager, saying, "This is a little more than she can afford to spend today, is there anything we can do for her sir?"
He then told the manager it's a level one contamination.
Level one contamination? That sounds serious! But it's really just a trick they use to fool the customer. They learn it in training.
Pero was caught on hidden camera in the training session saying, "Now your manager is going to ask you what do you need? A level one, level two or level three, based on the customer. Are you going to need a 10% off? Are you going to need 20% off? Are you going to need 30% off?"
Sure enough. That level 1 contamination turned into a 10% discount.
"You can take the $1114.96 and bring it down to $999," said the technician.
At that point it was time for Guerrrero to tell them who she really was.
"Joe, I have to tell you, I'm not the home owner. My name is Lisa Guerero and I'm with INSIDE EDITION. You just charged me $1,000 for work that this house doesn't need," said Guerrero.
Joe said, "I can only make recomendations. I took you outside. If you want to take your cameras outside, we'll go outside."
He takes the I-Squad outside and then re-did the mold test. But this time, with our experts hovering over him, the test comes back negative.
We wanted to talk to Ed Pero, who we were told owns the company. It turns out he's a registered sex offender, and has a rap sheet for grand theft, assault, and burglary.
Guerrero approached Pero in the street and said, "I'm Lisa Guerrero with INSIDE EDITION. Are you ripping off the customers of your air duct cleaning business?"
Pero just turned and walked away without saying a word.
Then we received a call from a man named Patrick Millican, who said he, not Pero, was the owner of the business. When Guerrero went to his office, he wasn't there, but then he pulled up on his motorcycle.
"Turn those (expletive deleted) cameras off," said Millican.
When he calmed down, he insisted he doesn't rip off his customers, and said he has absolutely no connection to that ex-con Ed Pero, saying, "Pero's given this business a bad wrap. He's given it a bad name. He is known throughtout as a ripoff, as a scam artist."
Guerrero asked, "So there would not be a time he would be participating and training with your technicians?"
"I am going to end this interview if you are going to try to word this again to me that he is a part of my business. I have explained this to you. I have been nice about doing this interview for you. Do not accuse me or insinuate that man is part of my business again," said Millican.
Guerrero then asked him if we could show him hidden camera video taken during that training session.
"Sure," said Millican.
Guerrero said, "This is a training session three months ago and you and Ed Pero are training your technicians."
That's right, there was Patrick Millican, with Ed Pero, the man he just called a scam artist, at a training session for new employees.
"Can you explain why you would lie about that?" asked Guerrero.
"Real simple. The man knows a lot about the business. I'm not a fool to cut my throat on taking knowledge from and about, but he is not part of my business. I do run an above board business," stated Millican.
Michelle Mason of the Northern Alabama Better Business Bureau has investigated unscrupulous air duct cleaning companies. She offer the following tips:
- Check the Company Out With BBB. Before setting up a visit, check the company out with your Better Business Bureau first. Pay close attention to the name of the business you're researching because unscrupulous outfits often choose a name that is similar to an existing business that has a solid reputation. To check out a business's Reliability Report or locate a BBB Accredited duct cleaner visit www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/.
- Look for the Fine Print. Ads and contracts may contain fine print which the business might think will absolve them from honoring their advertised price. Always ask plenty of questions and get to the bottom line of what it's going to cost you, before you sign on the dotted line.
- Get a Second Opinion. If the duct cleaner discovers that you have a mold problem, get a second opinion. Mold remediation can cost thousands of dollars so you'll want expert advice on how to take care of it.
- File a Complaint with BBB. If you believe you've been misled by a business, file a complaint with your BBB online at www.bbb.org/us/file-complaint. Even if BBB isn't able to resolve the issue for you, the complaint can serve as a warning to other consumers about the business.
Also, if the consumer decides to have their air ducts cleaned or have mold remediated, they should first consult the Environmental Protection Agency's online guide at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html