We were nearly the victims of scammers this week.  And we only avoided it because my wife, Christina, has a pretty finely tuned red flag detector.  Let me tell you the story.

We’ve been battling a bit of an insect infestation in our new place.  Carpet Beetles.  These little pests:

We saw a few of these last year around this time of year, but our pest guys came out and we thought they were dealt with.  Typically they eat keratin, so they can live easily on the corpses of pests like dead mice and we knew there were some mice, dead and otherwise, when we bought this place, but that aspect has been under control for most of the last year.

This year, however, the carpet beetles have been coming at us in numbers that feel like the Plagues of Egypts!  I have been trying to seal places where the prior owners didn’t caulk, but really that’s just like the little boy with his finger in the dam.  The finger goes in one hole, the water just finds another way.  Like that, but with carpet beetles.  And these little suckers are tiny, roughly the size of a sesame seed.  And not fast.

Our pest guys have sprayed and tried a number of other approaches, but the beetles persist.  The pest guys point out that this probably means the beetles have a source of food, probably in the walls, maybe dead mice carcasses.  Yay for us!  Living in the country is awesome!

Anyway, one of the things the pest guys recommended is getting our vents cleaned because we did find that the mice had squirreled away dog food in the vents, which is also a source of food for the beetles.  So, we were told that cleaning the vents should be done before the next steps of pest elimination escalation!

With that in mind, Christina began to look and one of her sources is Facebook.  A gent popped up named Ethan Johnson on a local group coincidentally offering duct cleaning at a reasonable rate.  She expressed interest and then began a brief conversation on Facebook Messenger.  

She made an appointment, but before the appointment came around, her red flags started to go up.  Something about some idiosyncrasies in language, something seemed a little off on the Facebook profile.  We sat down and poked around and it turns out the profile had only been created a week ago.  Additionally, the dude only had a half dozen Friends on FB and they were all Indian.  None of these is problematic individually but taken in aggregate, it starts to sound a little hinky.

Additionally, she noticed a bit of a rash of folks “new to the neighborhood” who were all offering similar HVAC services.  The language was similar and in each case the profile had not existed for more than a week or two.

Here was another example.  The profile only had a couple of pictures of an “All American” looking family.  I’ll include them only because I couldn’t find them with a Google Reverse Image search, so I don’t know where they’re scraping them from, probably Facebook and some unrelated person.

At this point, we were both scratching our heads trying to understand “What’s the scam?”  The guy said we don’t have to pay anything till the job is done.  So, we’re not paying up front.  We provided nothing but our address and contact phone number.  But, we’re both starting to feel pretty sure that this is not legit.

My first step is to start poking around on Google to see if others are seeing stuff like this.  Turns out, they are.  Here are a few examples.

Now, to be fair, these are all coming from legit businesses who would like you to choose their service, but at the same time, these scammers are giving legit companies a bad name.  

Before the scheduled appointment, Christina had reached out to “Ethan Johnson” letting him know that she was looking for a business name, proof of a business license and bonding.  Her phone started blowing up this morning with “Ethan” trying to tell her that this was definitely legit and that they had already sent the truck up our way and the technicians were going to be there soon.  She asked to speak to a supervisor at the company.  Soon, she received a call from “Michael” and the caller was clearly an Indian call center and his name was not Michael.

For context, Christina used to be a Parole and Probation Officer.  To say that Michael’s strong arm tactics were not going to work on Christina is an understatement.  You don’t rattle this girl.  She asked for the name of the company and was given a URL.  We looked it up while still on the call and it was, in fact, a company that was sort of in the area.  And that company did list License and Bonding info.  It also included a phone number.  So, in I called the number and asked the receptionist if they had anyone in our area or even covered our area.  She took our info and said she’d have a supervisor call us.  Meantime, “Michael” was escalating and talking faster and faster trying to get Christina to believe his spiel.  Eventually, she hung up on him when he wouldn’t listen to her.

An hour or so later, we did receive a call from the company that had been mentioned and Christina spoke with the office supervisor who confirmed we were not in their system and they didn’t have anyone in our area.  Christina provided some additional information and soon she was contacted by the owner of the company who asked her for whatever evidence she had of the transaction.  Apparently, the owner was displeased that his company name was being used as part of this scam and he said he was going to “destroy” these folks.  But, realistically, there’s nothing to be done.  I’m not even sure there’s anything illegal being done.

So, back to the question: “What’s the Scam?”  The scam is basically lead generation.  These call centers have folks spamming FB with fake profiles who then post locally offering these HVAC services.  Then, once they have the leads, they are handed over to some fly-by-night operation that pays for the leads.  

In this transaction, you can see the scammer saying that “my best two technicians are coming with 16ft moving truck and high power vaccum (sic)”.  If that doesn’t set off your red flags, you’re not paying attention.

These scams are proliferating on FB, largely, I have to assume, because it works enough times to justify the time and effort.  Let me introduce you to a few folks who are doing this just locally:

Unsurprisingly, my favorite is “Brain Seems”.  I do wish Brain the best, but I don’t think it’s going to go the way you were hoping, my man.

I know there might be some percentage of folks who appreciate the hustle here.  They think that it’s just some folks trying to make some money in tough times.  I get that, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are being scammed.  Folks are not who they are representing themselves as.  They are lying and, worse, when asked for the company they represent, they throw out the name of a legit company, just not anyone they are associated with.

As a closing anecdote, Christina spoke with the owner of one of the companies that was being referenced in one of the scams.  That guy reached out to “Ethan Johnson” to arrange a duct cleaning at his house!  He has invited the scammers to come over to his place so he can learn more about how they work.  That’s awesome!  He is clearly not happy that someone is misrepresenting his company and he’s going to get even just a little satisfaction from calling out one of these scammers.  Good on him and I wish him the best!

Categories: Writing


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