PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - Prince George's County police are asking residents to call them if they feel they've been scammed by a Sears air-duct cleaning crew's tactics.
Several residents say they saw an air-duct-cleaning ad promising that the job would be done for $99 - but ultimately they paid thousands.
After FOX 5 talked to one man whose bill ballooned from $99 to nearly $6,000, several residents contacted the station saying the same three men had done the same thing to them.
Ironically, while FOX 5 was interviewing Bill Butler in Fort Washington, the air-duct cleaning crew was busy at work on their next victim.
Cheryl Clark lives about seven minutes away from Bill Butler and his family - they're strangers but they share a similar experience.
"I should have realized at the time what was going on but I just didn't," Clark said.
Like Butler, Clark says he saw the $99 Sears air-duct cleaning ad in the paper and made an appointment on Wednesday morning.
The same three men who showed up at the Butlers' home also knocked on Clark's door.
"They didn't even look at the vents, they just went directly to the furnace and pulled the furnace thing down. There was a little rust in there on the coils and there was a little soot which everybody has I'm sure but he told me it was mold," Clark said.
She says that less than an hour later, she was billed more than $5,000.
"They gave me two UV lights, they said I had to have that to keep the mold out of the furnace system. That was $600 apiece. Installation of the lights was $200 and that consisted of a little tiny hole, drilled into the furnace duct and plugged into something and that was it," Clark said. "They said the sanitizer was $400. I found out that came from a spray can, a $12 spray can. The fogger system to treat the bacteria was this little machine -- that was $2,000."
Checkbook.org Executive Director Kevin Brasler says the crew is defrauding these people.
"You have companies out there that are engaging in this bait and switch tactic where they say it's $99 and then they always find something and it cost thousands of dollars to initiate the repair," he said.
"That's fraud, that's actually a crime to do that."
But he added there's a larger issue at play.
"The fact is the vast majority of homeowners never need to have their ducts cleaned. It intuitively makes sense, but the fact is that the testing that's been done in this industry is that cleaning the dust out of your ducts doesn't have any benefit to you," Brasler said.
After learning about FOX 5's story, Sears offered Butler a full refund.
Clark is hoping for the same resolution.
Sears says they are re-evaluating their operating procedures.
The company also offered FOX 5 the following statement:
"The satisfaction of our customers is our top priority. While we have standard procedures in place for the diagnosis of each customer's situation to ensure they understand the product and services and the associated costs, we are listening to our customers in the D.C. area and are taking immediate action to address their concerns.
Going forward, any work that costs more than $499 will require a coordinator from our office to speak directly with the customer to further explain the benefits of the service and ensure they understand and authorize the service and payment. In addition, tomorrow we are also beginning ongoing training with our 35 D.C.-area Carpet Cleaning and Air Duct Cleaning franchise associates to ensure that our high standards of customer service are being met now and in the future.
Anyone who has a concern about Sears Carpet Cleaning and Air Duct Cleaning can call 800-586-1603 to speak with a national customer care representative."