RANDY MEIER PHOTO

RANDY MEIER

Seniors vs Crime Columnist

A couple of months ago I wrote about the authenticity of online reviews of products and services. A major problem with these reviews I described was a thriving cottage industry of fake review writers, who get paid by sketchy merchants to write positive reviews, which appear on various websites, hoping to influence customers in their purchases. 

This week, I received a complaint from an older Clinton woman. Her complaint really drove the point home on how problematic an over-reliance on web reviews can be for purchase decisions. 

The woman, I’ll call her Jill, noticed her water heater leaking. She reached out to family, who performed a Google search, looking for someone to replace the water heater. The top return in the search listed Clinton HVAC and Plumbing of Clinton, Iowa. Google showed 18 very positive reviews, scoring them 4.8 on a scale of 5. Impressed with the reviews, Jill made a call and got hold of someone, who agreed to take the job.

Soon two young men visited her and looked over the job. The water heater was still under warranty, so Jill expected it replaced at no cost. The young men brought out a new water heater, but soon told Jill her water pump from her well was disabled, and her power was out. And they demanded payment. Jill refused to pay, so the men left with the new water heater, which they evidently obtained using the warranty sticker from the failing water heater. 

Jill was left without power, or water, and felt the men stole a new water heater from her. She needed to hire another contractor to set everything right. That contractor’s assessment was someone tampered with the water pump, perhaps to up-charge the service call. 

I did some research on Clinton HVAC and Plumbing. They are not registered as a contractor with the state of Iowa. They have never obtained any permits for work from Building and Neighborhood Services at Clinton City Hall. Their website shows mostly text, using generic language to describe their business focus. No address for them appears on the website, although it states they operated in Clinton since 1999. Those 18 positive reviews? I didn’t recognize the names of any of the reviewers, and I lived here for 40 years. Many of them use European-sounding names. Their reviews all use generic sounding language, avoiding specifics, many using the same words. 

My assessment is Clinton HVAC and Plumbing is a lead generator. The website represents itself as a stand-alone business, but really serves to direct customers to other contractors, to which it farms out the work.  In Jill’s case, she doesn’t know who botched the job at her house, or who to pursue for the water heater warranty.

If you want to find a contractor, don’t rely solely on the internet. I could expand on that and say, don’t rely solely on the internet for guidance on any decision you make. 

Contact Seniors v. Crime

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.