Duct cleaning scams take over Hudson Valley Facebook pages | #datingscams | #lovescams | #facebookscams

NEW PALTZ — The latest scam to hit the Hudson Valley involves duct cleaning. Scammers offering this decidedly unsexy service have been seeking gullible homeowners on online neighborhood forums, especially Facebook.

“As far as I can tell, you call them up, get an estimate, they demand half up front, and they never show up,” said John Bligh, one of a handful of administrators for New Paltz’s community Facebook page. He noticed a bunch of posts coming in from people offering duct cleaning services starting a few months ago. “I hadn’t seen it before, but then people were posting the same thing over and over again.” 

The New Paltz page is a fairly large group with over 12,000 members. It’s closed, which means members have to request to join. For the most part, its seven moderators are “pretty liberal” about who they accept. No one has a lot of time to check too closely; this is a volunteer gig, after all. Bligh estimates he spends a few minutes per day reviewing approximately 10 daily requests to join. 

“We don’t just let anyone join. A lot of times they will have an obviously fake profile picture of some random model,” he said.

If someone is glaringly not a local or doesn’t even appear to be a real person, Bligh and his co-admins won’t allow them in. “If they are from India or China, they want to join to mine the member list,” he said from experience. The admins rely on members reporting concerns when scammers or other nefarious characters slip through the cracks.

Bligh grew suspicious when new people repeatedly posted their duct cleaning offerings — then others did as well using the same language. While this New Paltz page has a reputation locally for being a bit of a snake pit — “People can be very rude; it’s a microcosm of the internet,” Bligh said — it’s still a community that looks after one another. “They are obviously up to no good. We got on it pretty quickly.” 

On Dec. 5, Bligh posted, “We ban and block duct cleaning scammers as soon as we see the posts so feel free to report them.” He also shared a link to an informative article about duct cleaning scams to warn the group. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association also has guidance on how to avoid what it calls “blow-and-go” companies and scams.

Bligh’s home has ducts, as do many newer homes with central air, but he doesn’t even get why people would want to get them cleaned. He contends that with filters, most homes don’t really need duct cleaning beyond regular maintenance of dryer vents — which can be easily DIY. 

Across the Hudson River, the admin for The Rhinebeck Community Board Facebook page is similarly inundated with duct cleaning posts. That page is currently open to all. But currently, the admin of the page is running a poll to decide if it should lock down or remain open to reduce the number of spam posts.

The concern is that locking down the page would make the group less accessible to those who live in and around Rhinebeck. So far, the majority of nearly 200 voters are in favor of locking it down. One comment on the poll came from the administrator of yet another local Facebook community page — NorthEast-Millerton, east of Rhinebeck — that is contending with an onslaught of duct cleaning scam attempts. “I got the same thing and I had to lock it down for a while,” the person shared.

Besides duct cleaning, other recent local scams include asphalt paving and hackers who impersonate people to try to sell cheap designer sunglasses. Mostly, the New Paltz group provides hyperlocal information to its residents, a unique mix of college students, new transplants from New York City, and longtime locals in endless debates about gentrification and who makes the best pizza. “Most people are well-behaved and want to know where to get a plow guy. There are always a few knuckleheads looking to cause trouble,” said Bligh.

The admins field their fair share of complaints about contractors. “We have had some who say they are legit, and we get complaints from people writing us on the side: I hired this guy, he tried to rip me off. Sometimes it’s a he-said, she-said thing,” said Bligh, who is never eager to hurt the reputation of a small business owner because one client had a bad experience. In these instances, he prefers people call each other directly to work out conflicts

But contractor disputes are entirely different than multiple posts offering a service that appears to be a scam. Those Bligh now deletes immediately. He doesn’t even engage with the people posting to warn them.

Despite the fact that multiple local Facebook pages are contending with the same experience, it’s unclear how many local citizens are being harmed by the attempted scammers. Patrick Long, the senior consumer advocate with Ulster County, said his office has not received any calls about duct cleaning scams to date.

Bligh doesn’t know if anyone in New Paltz fell for the duct cleaners before he cut off the posts. “Whatever we see, we destroy. You can pretty much spot the scam posts.”

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