(KTVI) - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends that consumers use caution when dealing with Air Care and Show Me Air Duct and Carpet Cleaning, two new St. Louis area businesses tied to Noach Palatnik.
The BBB has received several reports in recent weeks from consumers who said they received automated “robo” phone calls from Air Care offering air duct cleaning specials at prices ranging from $30 to $59.95. Consumers who hired the firm said technicians charged them for additional work once they arrived at their homes.
“It was not a good experience,” an 82-year-old Maryland Heights woman told the BBB after Air Care charged her more than $1,000 last month for what she thought was a $59 service call.
US Air Ducts, which has also used the name US Air Duct, has logged more than 60 BBB complaints; Pure Air has been the focus of more than 30 complaints.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said Palatnik’s involvement in the new companies is reason for concern. “Mr. Palatnik has a troubling history with consumers and the BBB,” Corey said. “Consumers say US Air Ducts and Pure Air have used bait-and-switch promotions. There is no reason to believe these new companies will be any different.”
Palatnik, also known as Israel Palatnik or Aselector Palatnik, first came to the BBB’s attention in 2011 as owner and president of US Air Ducts. US Air Ducts reported an address on Kingsland Avenue in University City.
In November 2011, the BBB issued a news warning about US Air Ducts, noting that consumers complained they were lured by advertising flyers promising $49 air duct cleaning only to be hit with bills of $1,800 and more.
Shortly after that warning, Yogev Buskila told the BBB he had purchased the equipment and business of US Air Ducts from Palatnik. Buskila said he had set up a new, independent duct cleaning firm called Pure Air. Within weeks, customers of Pure Air began complaining of bait-and-switch marketing tactics similar to those alleged by customers of US Air Ducts.
Even though Buskila claimed that Palatnik was no longer involved with Pure Air, Missouri secretary of state records show Palatnik as the current president of Pure Air.
Buskila told the BBB earlier this month that he did not know why Palatnik is listed on the documents. “I am the owner of Pure Air,” he said.
In February, Palatnik registered Air Care as a fictitious name with the secretary of state, indicating that business was owned by Pure Air. Both companies list addresses on Tulane Avenue in University City. Buskila told the BBB he was not aware of any company called Air Care. In January of this year, Palatnik registered Show Me Air Duct and Carpet Cleaning at the same Tulane Avenue address.
The BBB has been unable to reach Palatnik despite repeated attempts. A woman who first answered the phone at the Air Care phone number said that no one named Palatnik or Buskila worked for the business. But several days later, when a BBB investigator called the number again, another woman said that Palatnik was not available. That woman said she did not know why anyone would say Palatnik did not work there.
Customer billing forms for US Air Ducts, Pure Air and Air Care are all strikingly similar, with virtually identical wording.
The Maryland Heights woman said she was stunned when an Air Care worker handed her a bill for $1,043. She said there had been no previous discussion about any charges above the $59 fee. “He knew I was upset,” she said of the technician.
An Air Care customer from Crestwood, also 82, said she also agreed to the $59 Air Care special, but ultimately was charged $135 for what workers said was additional cleaning.
She said her son noticed later that her dryer vent, which was supposed to have been included in the cleaning, was “loaded with dirt” after the workers left. “They hadn’t even touched it,” she said.
She also was suspicious when the workers declined repeated requests to give her a business address.
Since Air Care came to her home, she has received several automated calls from the same company.
BBBs in St. Louis and across the nation have issued numerous news alerts on duct-cleaning companies. Law enforcement agencies have sued some firms for defrauding consumers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges consumers to be wary of any company that makes sweeping promises that air duct cleaning will improve residents’ health. The EPA suggests cleaning in cases where there is visible mold growth, vermin infestation or if the ducts are clogged with excessive dust and debris. It also says that homeowners need to fully understand the pros and cons of using chemical treatments.
The BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to hire a duct-cleaning firm:
- Deal only with reputable companies, preferably businesses in your area with a good track record. Ask for references from homeowners in your neighborhood. Always contact the BBB for a Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
- Beware of advertising offers for air duct cleaning at extremely low prices. Often, businesses use these promotions to get an appointment and then try to sell additional services once they get inside your home.
- If a company discovers a potential problem in your furnace or ducts, do not be pressured into paying for additional services until you have contacted a heating and air conditioning professional for a second opinion. While the second company may charge you for a service call to check out the problem, the call may save you money if no service is needed.
- Try to have a friend or family member with you during a scheduled appointment with a salesman or service technician. If that is not possible and you feel threatened or intimidated during the visit, ask the person or persons to leave your home immediately. If they refuse or hesitate, call police.