How To Guide

13 Common Plumbing Scams To Spot And Avoid

Protect yourself from getting ripped off when you next have a plumbing problem with these top tips.

by Andy

Imagine you stumble upon a leaky pipe. So, what do you do? With growing desperation, you hit up Google and call the nearest random plumber to tackle this. DON’T go this route! You may get a victim of a plumbing scam. Plumbing is a profession with huge potential for shady practices, as most of you know little about the subject. To be vigilant before you hire/pay a plumber is a step ahead of plumbing disasters.

Especially, when you don’t have a pro at hand, you need to know the essential alarming signals, red flags, and plumbers’ lies. So, how can you identify plumber’s scams before you fall into the “experts” trap? Here, Plumbing Lab shares common plumbing scams and tips to stay away from dishonest practices.

13 Common Plumbing Scams & Tips To Avoid Them

1. “I don’t have the proof of license handy, now.”

No matter how urgent your plumbing issue is, resist the temptation to hire the first-seen guy working around the neighborhood! Chances are he is unlicensed, uninsured, or not qualified enough. You can take the risk, but as a minimum, expect the building inspector instructions to re-do the job.

Just like doctors, plumber’s work is crucial to enjoying a healthy plumbing system. That’s why it has to meet industry-specific standards. Think about the improper installation of copper water pipes. If the plumbing goes wrong, you can stumble upon green build-up on your pipes. So, you won’t understand if the water is drinkable.

Here are horrifying real-life pictures of exposed plumbing scam:

waste pipe

Situation that something went wrong with a waste pipe.

gas line hit

Unlicensed plumber hit a gas line instead of plunging the drain.

The bottom line: Keep in mind that a good plumber will volunteer the identification, proof of license, and insurance to make you feel safe.

2. “Bait-and-switch” plumbing repair scams

Scams that involve material upselling tricks lead to the Bait-and-switch plumbing trap. Still, dishonest plumbers offer high-grade materials so your plumbing lasts a lifetime. What you get is a low-cost replacement at an inflated price. Not only is this dishonest practice. But there’s a high chance to re-do the work - cheap materials are not sturdy enough to withstand the test of time.

“These sleek replacement strategies are hard to detect,” commented London-based professional plumber Shem Bruce. “You may not realize the plumber’s scam until you encounter a major flood in your apartment,” he adds.

Be on guard and follow these tips:

  • Don’t trust vague information. First, rely on curated reviews, ratings and expert plumber findings of the replacement parts’ make and model. Then, ask the pro to itemize the bill in writing.
  • Make sure what’s on your receipt corresponds to what’s behind your tiles.

3. Your Expensive-Looking Home is a Magnet To Scams

Upscale Home

Upscale neighbors caught the attention of scammers. They see sneaky deals if you live in a luxury building or if you are an owner of a recent car model. Because the plumbers are not bound by law to apply fix rates - it’s not a mere form of scam. But the logic is: you pay 50-100% more, just because you can afford it.

The simple way to protect yourself is:

  • Receive at least three quotations from different plumbers. Here’s an unwritten rule: the more complex the job, the more offers you need
  • Find out what is the average cost for the job you need. Plus, look for companies with half-hourly rates to prevent a small task overcharge.

4. “Replace Pipes” Plumbing Scam

A classic tactic of plumber scammers is to use high-pressure upselling tactics. A trustworthy plumber knows that changing a fixture or pipe is a serious investment and you might need a few days to think this over.

Though, from toilet blockage to a broken pipe emergency, scammers will try to lift the importance of immediate replacements with the only aim to drain your wallet.

5. RIDICULOUSLY Too Many Alternatives

Unscrupulous plumbers confuse and overwhelm homeowners by offering too many solutions for a problem. They use this tactic to make your choice difficult and to avoid questions.

Finally, the homeowner feels comfortable with the plumber’s choice. The problem is that the service may stretch beyond the initial agreement and end up costing you extra money. Beware of this approach. Reliable plumbers offer you an extra level of security with a tailor solution that makes things easy for both sides.

6. The Low-balling Scam Technique

Scammers dupe the budget-conscious by offering one of the following baits:

  • “low-balling” rate;
  • “once in a lifetime offer”;
  • “free” estimation without even seeing the job or
  • pay a lower rate now before someone books the slot.

If the plumber takes your cash without an invoice/receipt, it’s a subtle sign for a scam. Not only does he dodge the tax system, but with cheaper rates, he may also hide facts about his knowledge, certification, and who knows what else.

7. The “Bundle” Offer

Plumbers may come with a “bundle offer” to upgrade/repair a fixture and thus, save you time and money. But think twice: do you really need that extra service? Though difficult, it's essential to distinguish the harmful upselling recommendations from good plumbing practices.

Watch out for offers to replace fixtures when it is only a matter of a slight repair. Is it worth it to replace a toilet with a damaged wax ring or a wobbling seat when it's a few minutes' repair task?

Well, not all upcharges are inherently shady plumbing practices. Imagine you have an old toilet model that won’t stop running. The outcome: it adds to your utility bills every month. Upfront replacement costs may seem higher, but a trouble-free, low-flow toilet is an investment that pays off in the long run.

8. Door-to-Door Plumbing Scams

Don’t trust door-to-door “specialists” disguised with plumbing uniforms. Any free inspection on behalf of the state sounds fantastic, particularly for seniors. But this can cost you a theft. Unsolicited plumbers may try to confuse you by telling the need for additional expensive repairs.

They will disassemble your plumbing fixture and come up with an inflated price and contract ready for your sign. If you reject, the plumber will tell you, “Goodbye” leaving you with all the mess he left behind.

Hold the cards by asking for details before the pro enters your home. The ID card, proof of license, company details, and registered address are excellent questions to start with. If you are uncomfortable in this situation, don’t be afraid to say “No”, shut the door, or call the police.

Door to door plumbing scam

9. Cold Callers

Getting unexpected phone calls for plumbing services is also phishy. Don’t trust a company that rings to carry out your boiler/water heater maintenance and ask for your bank details. Sure, cold callers are looking to access your private information and will never service your equipment. Either way, call the authorities if you are a target of this scam.

10. “Just sign this, we will complete the document later.”

To sign an incomplete agreement may allure the plumber to disappear at any stage of the project. The worst scenario is when the job hasn't even started, and you paid a decent chunk of money at the beginning.

  • So, make sure you get everything in writing.
  • Keep advance and intermediate payments to a minimum.
  • A great idea is to check on what the maximum allowed pre-payment according to your state’s regulations.
  • Your best bet is to ask for estimation before the project starts and invoice until you are happy with the results.

11. Self-Appraising Plumbers - “Believe Me, I’m The Best”

Explaining plumbing services are fine doesn’t sound like a genuine success story. Don’t trust a plumber who is not confident or clear about the perks he offers. These companies describe themselves with superlatives: “We are the best, amazing, top”, etc.

The aim is to impress you when, in reality, there is no meaningful connection with the real features they offer. What offers credibility are feedback, reviews, testimonials, and successful projects. When you are in the chase of reputable plumbers, ask for recommendations from family members, neighbors, and colleagues.

12. “The Busy Beaver”

You choose a reputable plumber to carry out work, but what happens is a few of his deputies on-site. The case might be that the professional cannot accomplish the task for health reasons.

Or he is a “busy beaver” and not willing to take small jobs. The latter leads him to hire cheaper labor and send out not prequalified subcontractors or apprentices. Not to mention the risk of shoddy work and overpay for all plumbers on the scene.

To avoid a double charge on every step, communicate with the contractor the responsibilities of the team members. Plus, ensure you are covered: ask for extra control over the work of the apprentice by a licensed plumber.

13. Plumbing Scams with Disposals

Most experts will clean up after themselves. There are bad apples, though. Greedy plumbers may not include cleaning up after work and leave you surprised with a dirtier scene than before.

The outcome is: you can wipe things down by yourself or negotiate an extra charge for cleaning. If you have to make a quick choice, make a picture before and after the plumber's job. Otherwise, ensure work includes the cleanup service so that the final amount won’t blindside you.

How to Avoid Plumbing Scams Before They Happen & Find a Good Plumber?

So far, we’ve seen that a rogue plumber can be someone who asks for down-payment three months upfront—then disappeared. Or, he could be someone who uses a false name and leaves the job when he feels like it.

He can also be too busy to clean clogged garbage disposal or install a kitchen faucet. Plumber scammers are mushrooming and put the engineers a bad name. To research the plumbing company is your best defence against plumbing lies. Here are a few tips to avoid getting a target to the will-wishers:

  • Ensure the plumbing company has an official registered address, telephone number, e-mail, and opening hours. Don’t trust a pro with an answering service only. 
  • Check how long he or his company has been in business and if he brings with him the arsenal of high-graded tools.
  • Be wary of plumbers that accept payment “under the table”.
  • Be cautious about representatives who come unsolicited at your doorstep and don't volunteer proof of qualifications, license, insurance — especially if he applies high-pressure sales tactics at all costs and requests cash upfront.
  • Wade through the plumber's website, appraise services, evaluate credentials, check for social proof, and complete projects.
  • Trust companies that expose photos of real professionals and testimonials at a central place of their webpages.
  • Consider hiring a plumber registered in a professional organization.
  • Never accept a verbal offer with vague and ambiguous details. This means the plumber won’t bound. A bid with full details in writing is a foolproof way to avoid a tradesman with slick sales practice.
  • Don’t believe plumbers’ quotes that look too good to be true. A licensed expert usually comes with expert authority and high service costs. Always read the contract before you sign.
  • Discuss with the contractor who will do the work, their qualifications, responsibilities, and hourly- rate. A decent plumber will always reply to make you feel comfortable.
  • Check out the plumber’s schedule. Ensure he won’t leave you with a mess behind or overtime charges for unexpected delays.
  • To “out” a liar, ask questions that invite more details. That will help you paint a complete picture of the service and how dependable the plumber is.

Conclusion

Have some queasy feeling in your gut? Is plumber trying to rip you off? You are in control! Put the plumber in your “bad contractors'' list and report the fraud. Then, keep on searching for a risk-free, insured, and trustworthy specialist that will never leave you unsatisfied.

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