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Police: Chimney Scams Sweeping Greenwich

GREENWICH, Conn. – Several Greenwich residents have fallen victim to chimney scams over the past two months, according to the Greenwich Police Department. The scammers prey on the elderly and offer chimney cleaning work for a low price, then spike up the costs for other work that they claim needs to be done.

Lt. Kraig Gray, spokesman for the department, says the scam is an old standby because most people, especially the elderly, will not climb up on a roof to verify the job was completed. In addition, when people hire chimney companies to clean or inspect a chimney, they do so in the hopes of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning or fire.

“Typically, the scammers call the elderly victim, but the most recent trend has involved the scammers actually ringing the doorbell. The scammers usually claim they are at the residence to perform a chimney cleaning, or other such service, for a special discounted rate,” Gray said in a statement. “The scammer then tells the victim their chimney is in disrepair and in need of immediate work to make it safe.”

During the negotiation phase, scammers will often create a false urgency that repairs need to be completed immediately, says Gray. Chimney liners are often presented as the cure for unsafe chimneys, and residents are frequently charged for expensive liners that are never installed. Or, if they are installed improperly, the result can be deadly.

“We have seen liners dropped down chimneys with no effort to attach them to boilers, or hot water heaters,” said Gray. “The improperly installed liner then restricts and blocks the exhaust process, which may lead to a sickening or possible deadly build up of carbon monoxide within the residence.”

Gray says not all chimney sweep companies are crooked and that licensed contractors know how often the scam is perpetrated and are typically willing to comply with residents’ verification requests.

“If the contractor is makes any excuse as to why some part of their operation can not be verified or he seems like a sketchy character, we suggest you stay away and contact the police,” Gray said in the prepared statement.

Here are some tips residents should know to prevent them from falling victim to chimney scams:

1. Do not fall for telephone solicitors, who may be very convincing when they tell you "It's time for your annual chimney cleaning." It’s best to stay with reputable chimney contractors in the area. Check your local Yellow Pages or Better Business Bureau.

2. When a solicitor calls to offer home improvement work, ask for their Connecticut Home Improvement Registration number, ask where they are located and their phone number, ask for references and verify when they were last at your house.

3. Before any contractor works on your home, verify that they have a Connecticut Home Improvement Salesman's Registration at the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection website , or by calling 1-800-842-2649.

4. Always get three separate written estimates. State law requires that any written contract or proposal include what is known as a three-day notice of cancellation. This prohibits the work from being conducted for three days and allows the consumer three days in which to cancel the order and obtain a full refund. The three days gives you time to think it over or talk it over with a friend or family member who may be more knowledgeable about the work proposed. This time is for your protection and allows you to make an informed decision.

5. Never pay cash.

For any further questions regarding home improvement scams, contact Detective Stempien at 203-622-8023.

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