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Updated: 07/16/2014 10:22:00AM

From the porch:

Don’t let con men ruin your summer ‘cool’

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It seems to happen every year about this time. As certain as the arrival of summer’s heat comes the arrival of con artists looking for take money from unsuspecting homeowners.

Air conditioning and duct work cleaning companies send crews here from other areas and offer seemingly low prices to inspect homes and air conditioning equipment. Almost invariably, the final price is far higher than the “deal” originally offered.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Nell Hays says the scammers are back. They look legitimate. The offer sounds to good to be true –– and that’s because it usually is.

An out-of-area company places advertisements in local coupon magazines offering duct cleaning service for $49.95 or another low price. Once at the victim’s home, the workers find what they say is mold and the advertised price is no longer valid. The workers then charge a significant amount more than the advertised price and also ask that the check be made payable to them instead of the company.

This is not how honest businesses treat customers. Lake Placid and Highlands County have lots of licensed, reputable companies that service air conditioning units and clean duct work. They built their businesses by providing honest work at fair prices. Reputations are crucial to businesses –– especially in smaller communities –– and area companies would not be likely to inflate prices for the sake of a few dollars.

Highlands County residents who have done business with any unscrupulous company within the past year and have been charged more than the advertised rate due to the presence of mold, are encouraged to call the sheriff’s office and make a report. Call Central Dispatch at 863-402-7200 and a deputy will be sent to your home to get the details.

Hays said anyone with information on incidents of this type and who wants to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS(8477) or visit the website Anonymity is guaranteed.

It’s not just duct cleaning services that prey on homeowners. It was only recently that I learned of an elderly woman who was contacted by telephone by a firm offering a free inspection of her central air conditioning system. After a visual inspection of the air conditioner, the woman was told she needed to replace several expensive elements. Without the repairs, she was told, her air conditioner would certainly be damaged and her home was at risk of fire.

She didn’t fall for the scare tactic and instead called a local company. Within hours she learned there was absolutely nothing wrong with her air conditioning system.

Be cautious. Be wise. Deal with area professionals who have built their business on solid reputations.