­

Remember that TV news media sting that caught air conditioner repair service people attempting to rip off a "homeowner?"

In the middle of a heat wave NBC's Today Show investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen set up a timely undercover investigation of air conditioning repair contractors and couldn't find a single honest repairman.

When Rossen recently went after plumbers, at least only nearly half of them wound up in hot water.

It's the kind story that can't be told enough.

Don't randomly call service workers to your home.

Ask family, friends, your real estate agent, co-workers and others your trust for referrals to service people.

Then check their license, their Better Business Bureau record and other records of their work and business to fully vet them before you allow them to cross your home's threshold.

Flushing out plumbers

For the plumber sting episode, Rossen's crew rented a house in suburban New Jersey with an easily accessible hot water heater in the basement.

To verify the heater was in good shape, Rossen hired three licensed, master plumbers to give the water heater the once over. They all found it in perfect working condition, with a remaining useful life of 10 to 15 years.

One plumber was Pete Boros, a plumber with 30 years of experience and the chairman of New Jersey's licensing board for plumbers.

Boros made a small adjustment to the water heater's drainage valve by loosening a screw to start a small leak, creating a puddle on the floor.

A simple fix would be to take little more than a second to tighten the screw back to it's original position.

It's something an honest plumber would spot in a minute.

And that's just what happened, at first.

Cameras were secretly positioned and a "mom" of four daughters, randomly called 10 plumbers.

The first plumber finds and fixes the problem in an instant without charging the mom. Several additional plumbers follow suit.

Problem plumbers

Then the plumber problems began.

• "Frank" arrives, checks the tank, finds and fixes the leak. Then, however, he tells mom the water has to be drained and a new valve installed to prevent further leaks.

He offers to do the work for $359, but then hustles off, while sticking to his story, after Rossen appears to tell him the jig is up.

• Another plumber, just seconds in the basement, proclaims the water heater needs to be replaced.

"There's no fixing it. You need a new unit, just from looking at it," he lies, hoping to collect $1,675 for the work.

When questioned about the leak Boros had created, the plumber claimed he didn't see the leak, but that he had felt moist corrosion on the bottom of the heater.

Later he couldn't explain why Rossen couldn't feel the same moisture and hurries off.

Rossen called the plumber's company with more questions, but the company never called back.

• The largest estimate came from "Joe" who spent lots of time down on his hands and knees, even prone at one point, putting on a pretty good water heater inspecting performance.

"I'm just trying to see because I don't want you to have to spend no money you don't have to spend," he tells the mom.

Finally, "I think it's coming from here," says "Joe," fingering the valve Boros adjusted to leak.

Later his story changes when he tells the mom she needs a new water heater.

"Yeah, it's (the leak) gotta be coming from the tank," Joe fibs.

When the mom asks for an estimate, he replies, "$1,975. I'll do it for 1900 bucks."

What a deal.

Log in to comment
­