With new technology, comes a new generation of scams. Before, a dishonest tradesperson hoping to separate a vulnerable person from their cash might offer dire predictions based on their opinion. Now, it’s possible to fake up the evidence, too.
How can you tell whether they’re trying to help you, or trying it on?
One of the more common call-outs for plumbers is sewer line blockages and partial blockages. We’ll come out and clear the line. If we can’t easily clear it, we might run a camera down there to figure out what’s wrong.
Scammers do the same. They’ll shake their heads, look concerned and show you video that shows your sewer line is irretrievably broken and needs to be replaced. You can see the damage to the line, right there on the screen.
How this works is pretty obvious: it’s a bait and switch. It’s not your sewer line on the screen.
Setting this one up isn’t that tough — how many people know what the inside of their sewer line looks like, after all? You’re looking at footage of a pipe; ‘experts’ are telling you it’s yours.
You can ask them to film something outside your house as part of the same footage, so you know it’s your pipes you’re looking at. Ask to see the whole video, not just the bad spot. And bear in mind thatit’s best to work with a company you trust, based on accreditation and reviews.
If someone tells you your sewer lineneeds to be replaced immediately or the next day, that should be a red flag. Things don’t usually break down that fast or that catastrophically, and ‘it’s too urgent to stop and think!’ is a common gambit when you don’t want people asking questions.
Instead of going along, say thanks and get a second opinion. You should be able to find another professional plumbing company out the same day or the next.
One common cause of clogs in sewer lines is root systems from trees and plants growing into the pipe. Those roots can block the pipe and cause clogs. It’s often not necessary to excavate the pipe and fully replace it though; it should be possible to cut the roots in many cases.
That might not be true of your sewer line; or, the plumber might not have the tools to do the job.
Ask them if they're using different sized cutters on the machine to clean and remove the roots. If they’re not, consider finding someone who will!
Sticker shock: the moment of disorientation that occurs when you find out just how much this stuff costs.
Most people don’t keep up with the costs of things until they need them, and on some level we usually expect to be surprised when we ask for prices on specialized work.
Scammers exploit this: they know you’ll be unpleasantly surprised whatever number they give you, so they try you on a huge sum to see if you’ll bite.
Asking personal questions can just be a way to be friendly. But scammers often like to establish how vulnerable their potential victim is too. Asking what you do for a living could be small talk; it could be a way to find out if you’re likely to be knowledgeable enough to catch them in a lie. Asking if your husband’s home might be chit-chat, or it might be a way to make sure you’re alone when you make a decision involving thousands of dollars.
There’s no hard-and-fast rules here, except to say that professionals will usually be… professional. They might be polite, but they’re there about your drains and that’s what they’ll want to talk about. When in doubt, get a second opinion.
This scam is as old as the hills. Everyone knows someone who took their car into the shop for a simple job, only to hear of thousands’-worth of necessary repairs. This is the same approach: once they start looking, some companies will find endless expensive problems.
It can be hard to tell this scam from the honest delivery of bad news by a professional: sometimes closer inspection really does turn up major underlying problems.
The best guide is a second opinion here, too. If two professionals offer the same explanation and advice as well as the same diagnosis, it’s much more likely to be accurate. Avoid letting emotions dictate your decisions.
Avoiding scammers is partly a question of being aware of their tricks. But if you work with an accredited company you shouldn’t have a problem — and if you’re in doubt, get a second opinion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Palady, RMP is the President and co-owner of Budget Rooter Plumbing & Drain Cleaning. This family owned plumbing company has been serving their customers for more than 25 years, and makes customer service and quality of work their priority.
Jeff started working in the field at the age of fifteen under the tutelage of his father, who owned a Philadelphia-based plumbing and drain cleaning company. At the age of eighteen, Jeff and his mother decided to open their own shop in their home state of Delaware. For the first few years, Jeff was Budget Rooter’s only field technician, and was often out on calls until late at night while going to school to earn his Master’s License. As Budget Rooter grew, Jeff trained new technicians, researched and purchased the best equipment, and today he manages the operations of the company.
Known for being dedicated to Budget Rooter, Jeff is one of the first to arrive in the morning and is usually the last to leave. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys fishing, modifying his truck, and spending time with his wife and two sons.