Give chimney scammers the brush off before they take your money and run

BALTIMORE - With this chilly weather, right in front of the fireplace is the perfect place to warm up.  But first you've got to clean it.  And you need to know the warning signs to brush off scammers trying to pull a fast one as a chimney sweep.

You can deny it all you want, but winter is fast approaching and you've got to get ready.  Angie Barnett with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland says, "Because it is colder weather people are winterizing their homes, they're thinking about the things they need to have in good working order."

One of the items that will need to be checked come winter is your chimney.  If it's in need of a cleaning or servicing, that's not the kind of job most people can do on their own.  Barnett says, "Very few homeowners are experts at chimneys.  It's complex and we just don't know a lot about it and don't have the service done on a regular basis."

As a result, Barnett says you could be at risk for chimney sweeping scams, which often run door to door.  The BBB locally has logged 22 complaints about chimney sweepers in recent weeks, some from people who say they were quoted one price for cleaning and then charged another after the contractor added on services or repairs that weren't necessarily needed.  Barnett explains it's a standard bait and switch brought on by some bad operators, "There are a few bad apples in the bunch and you want to be cautious of them."

But it's tough to weed out the seedy operators because chimney cleaners aren't licensed in Maryland, so you won't find complaints through the state if you want to background a company.  Barnett says they do get certified through a national trade group, the Chimney Safety Institute of America so you can verify that affiliation before you commit.

You should also check the record of the business through the BBB and get references before you let a technician start work, even if they come door to door.  Barnett says it's also smart to snap a picture of the license plate the operator drives.  That way if they turn out to be a scammer, you'll have a firm piece of identifying information to help make a report.

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