Many people these days keep more than just their cars in their garages so when your garage door breaks, you often need it fixed quickly. Unfortunately, this has left a lot of homeowners vulnerable to garage door scams over the years. These scams hurt both homeowners and legitimate business, by giving garage door technicians a bad name, so we wanted to shine a little light on garage door scams this month to help you avoid them in the future.
How Are People Scamming You
The Scenario: Your garage door stopped working and you don’t know why. You call Company X and the technician comes out in short order. They spend a few minutes looking at your garage door, the chains, the springs, the motor, etc… and then they announce that you need a whole new system.
The Scam: Actually, it’s only one spring that’s broken but the technician, sensing that you don’t know what’s wrong, is going to sell you a whole new system – and that of course means that you’re going to pay a lot more than is actually necessary.
One note on broken springs: springs generally have a specified lifetime expectancy so when one spring goes, it’s not uncommon for the other to break shortly thereafter. For that reason, many technicians will recommend that you replace both springs at the same time. This is not a scam technique or an upsell: it’s actually saving you another service fee that you would likely have to pay in the next few weeks or months if you only replace one spring at a time.
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean that it’s always the spring that’s broken so there’s always a chance that one or more of the parts of the garage door opening system need to be replaced.
The Fake Business
The Scenario: Your garage door isn’t working and you want it fixed quick so you call the first company you find a number for. It may even be the number listed on a sticker on your door. The technician shows up in an unmarked vehicle and has no identifying uniform, badge, or paperwork.
The Scam: These “companies” will usually charge exorbitant fees, often not giving you an estimate until the technician arrives. In many cases, the number you called, even if it had a local area code, directed your call to a national call center. That operator then contacted a technician (or maybe someone who isn’t even a qualified technician) to come to your house. Often times, a fake business will demand payment in cash, upfront, or directly to the technician, without a receipt or paper estimate. If you later have any complaints – if you find out you over paid or the work was not done correctly – you’ll have a hard time tracking down the responsible party.
The Pay-Me-First Guy
The Scenario: You’ve called a company you found online – they even have a website – and their company name includes a reference to your town or one nearby. You have no reason to suspect they aren’t legit. You may have even received an estimate on the phone. When the technician shows up, he announces that you have to pay him before any work is started. He may even say you have to pay him in cash or he may tell you to write a check to a company with a different name than the one you called.
The Scam: It is almost unheard of in the trades for legitimate businesses to demand payment upfront. Even in industries with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, payments generally go into escrow and are only released when the work is completed. In some cases, a tradesman may have you put a down-payment on a part that is necessary to fix whatever is broken. But you should never pay upfront in full, and certainly not in cash, as there is no proof that you paid.
If you pay upfront, a dishonest technician can start to work and make it look like something else is broken. They will then demand more money to fix this next item and refuse to continue work until you pay. In the worst case scenario, a dishonest technician can claim you never paid, if you paid in cash.
The Lifetime Guarantee on Springs Scam
The Scenario: As we mentioned earlier, the most common reason for your garage door to stop working is a broken spring. You know this and you’ve even identified the broken spring. You called a local company, got a quote, and a technician is on his way. Everything seems legit. When the technician arrives, he says he can offer you a lifetime guarantee on the new springs he is installing.
The Scam: This seems like a great deal because you already know that springs will eventually break so why not pay a little more and get them free in the future? But here’s the reality: the company may give you free springs in the future, but they will charge you more than the normal service fee to come out and replace those springs. And a lifetime guarantee? What if the business isn’t around in 5 years when your springs break? Or what if you move? Don’t fall victim to this all-too-common scam.
The Too-Good-To-Be-True Price
The Scenario: Your garage door is broken and you’ve called a few places and received estimates. Then you call Company X and their estimate is a quarter of what the others were. You’re excited to have found a great deal.
The Scam: You know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s no different with garage door companies. There are a few different ways this scam can work. When the technician arrives, he may tell you that the price you were quoted over the phone was incorrect, either because he now realizes that more needs to be fixed or that the person on the phone was plain old mistaken or that the quote was only the service fee or some other related story.
That being said, just like the False Diagnosis, it is possible that a company may quote you one price on the phone and when the technician arrives he may realize that the diagnosis that the quote was based on was incorrect. Remember that you can always call the office again and that you’re always welcome to turn a technician away before he does the work (although in general you will be expected to pay the service fee if a technician has come to your house).
The Exorbitant “Emergency” Price
The Scenario: It’s Sunday. Or maybe it’s 11pm on a weeknight. Or maybe it’s New Year’s Day. Or it’s 30 below out. You’re thankful that you found a technician who will come to fix your garage door ASAP. But when he arrives, he gives you an exorbitant price quote, or increases the quote you were given on the phone, because of the extenuating circumstances.
The Scam: He knows you want the door fixed ASAP and you’re probably not going to want to turn him away, pay a service fee, and go through the hassle of finding a new company to help you at this inopportune time. So he jacks up the price. Call it a scam or call it supply-and-demand, there’s no reason for you to be surprised by an exorbitant fee. Make sure you get a quote, in writing when possible, up front. Any quote that seems incredibly high may be just that.
How To Avoid Garage Door Scams
Ok, so now you know how to spot the scams, but the best way to avoid them is to never encounter them in the first place. How do you go about finding a trustworthy garage door company?
Know What You’re Looking At
A great first step to avoid being the victim of a scam is to know what the different parts are of your garage door and how they should look and operate. Do you know what a broken spring looks like? They’re pretty easy to spot, unless you have a spring system that is enclosed. One great way to educate yourself is to have a 5 minute chat with your garage door installer when the garage door and system are originally installed. Of course, this isn’t possible for everyone, so do a little research online to diagnose your problem and get measurements before you start calling companies. The more you can tell the person on the phone what you need, the more accurate your quote will be. Also, if you can confirm yourself that, for instance, the motor is working fine, if the technician tries to tell you that the whole system needs to be replaced, you’ll know that’s not true.
Garage doors don’t break all that frequently, but check with your neighbors: have they had a good experience with a garage door installation company? This might be a good way to get a few companies’ names – but still do your other research before you jump in.
Research Companies Online
In this day and age, you should be suspect of any company that doesn’t have its own website. But this one is tricky because a lot of scam companies know that a decent looking website will fool people into thinking they are legitimate. Since that’s not always the case so you need to dig deeper than their website. Four great online resources are Google Reviews, Yelp, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau. Few companies will have perfect ratings, but a bundle of negative ratings should be a big warning sign to any potential customer.
Yes, shopping local is a trend these days, for everything from veggies to garage doors. But when it comes to garage doors, there’s a good reason to shop local: local tradesmen, including garage door companies, can’t stay in business very long in a local area if they aren’t providing good service. Word gets around. And the longer a company has been around, the better. AR-BE Garage Doors has been family owned since 1947. We take pride in our business and our reputation.
A caveat to this: some scams involve front companies with local names or names that are close to other, better-known local companies. Don’t let the name fool you – look deeper to get a sense of the company’s history in the area. And if you can’t find their history, be suspicious!
Get A Quote
There’s no doubt that it’s a common occurrence for a technician to arrive on the scene, only to realize there’s something bigger or more complex going on than what the customer related over the phone. And this may change the cost of the work. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting an estimate over the phone and in writing when possible. If the technician tells you that more needs to be done than you had anticipated, feel free to call the office and discuss it with them first. Never let yourself be pressured into paying more.
Look For A Logo
Most legitimate garage door companies have trucks or cars with their logo and contact information on them. Why wouldn’t we want to advertise our services as our technicians drive from job to job, right? So if someone shows up in an unmarked car, be suspicious. Ask for paperwork and/or identification that proves they are with the company you called. If they can’t produce it, don’t let them do the work.
Don’t Pay Cash
Just don’t do it, especially if the technician requests the cash at the time of service. A check or a credit card leaves a paper trail that can be followed, if anything goes wrong. Cash – even with a receipt – does not. If you need to pay cash, go to the office to pay or get a money order. Also, do not write out checks to anyone but the company. Do not write out checks in the technician’s name.
Get A Receipt
Finally, get a receipt that details what work was done, gives an itemized price list, a final total, and shows that you’ve paid. If all else fails, or if there is any reason to believe something the company did was wrong, this receipt will help you get your issue rectified.
Want one sure-fire way to avoid a garage door scam? Call AR-BE Garage Doors. We’ve been supplying and fixing garage doors in the Chicago area since 1947 so you know we’ve done something right along the way. And, we’re family owned, so you know we take pride in our work and the name of our business.