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Ductz ‘zee plays role in sting operation


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Patty Clisham

The discovery of “wire-eating mold…that causes cancer” was definitely a red flag, but Patty Clisham already knew the service duo offering to clean her air ducts for a ridiculously low price was a scam because her franchise, Ductz of West St. Louis, had already cleaned those same ducts hours earlier.

Unlike the recent trend in franchising where franchisors go on TV as an Undercover Boss, Clisham went undercover as part of a television news reporter’s sting operation on an unscrupulous duct cleaning service which had solicited a slew of complaints for the Better Business Bureau. It was Clisham’s reputation for honesty and good work that brought her to the attention of the CBS affiliate. 

As part of the sting, Clisham posed as the tenant moving into an older home that actually belonged to the TV station’s production manager. “I was the unsuspecting mother-in-law,” she says, laughing. “I couldn’t lie so I had to be evasive.” She wore a wire, and mini-cameras were strategically placed around the house. The TV crew were next door listening.

The scam, which is not unique to the St. Louis area, offers duct cleaning for $49 to $55, a ridiculously low price for the amount of work involved, according to Clisham. 

The scammers told Clisham treatments for the mold problem would cost at least $400 (some seniors were charged as much as $1,000, according to news coverage.) “He called me lazy if I didn’t want to do this,” she says, hotly. When she said she couldn’t afford it, he kept the pressure on, even as he lowered the price.

Once the con had run its course, the reporter and camera crew showed up, asking about the mold and why they were servicing clean ducts.  Clisham retreated to the back of the house, as the two men tried to make a hasty exit. “The best was when they took off and the equipment fell off the back of the truck and they had to stop and go back and pick it up,” Clisham says. 

The program aired October 30—“My birthday,” she says, “and the phone just rang and rang.” It’s been great publicity for her franchise, she admits, but it’s also a public service. “The problem is the people who get taken don’t want to file a complaint because they feel foolish or are afraid,” Clisham says. The experience was exhausting, she admits, but if Chris Hansen, NBC Dateline’s investigative reporter, ever wants to do a similar sting, she’s on it. “I always tell my guys, ‘do the job like Chris Hansen’s watching,’ ” she says. 

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