Vancouver air duct cleaning companies made over 13 million calls and mailed millions of advertisements over a two-year period
SEATTLE — A King County Superior Court judge today ordered Vancouver, Wash.-based air duct cleaning companies and their owner to pay civil penalties of $10 million in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit over deceptive advertisements and robocalls. By law these penalties will be directed to the state’s general fund. The companies made over 13 million robocalls within Washington state from 2017 to 2019, including calling more than 500 individual Washington consumers over 100 times.
The Attorney General’s Office received dozens of complaints about the companies’ robocalls and deceptive advertising and services. Washingtonians also filed nearly 120 complaints about the companies with the Federal Trade Commission.
On May 29, 2020, Judge Susan Craighead ruled that US Air Ducts & Sky Builders Inc. and DLM Services Inc., as well as owner Rami Mornel, violated the Consumer Protection Act in numerous ways, including robocalling Washingtonians without permission, misleading people about who was calling and posting fake Google reviews to falsely build their brand. The judge’s order also permanently barred the companies and Mornel from making robocalls or deceptively marketing these services in the future.
“Thanks to dozens of Washingtonians contacting our office, we learned about these deceptive robocalls and advertisements,” Ferguson said. “These companies used illegal robocalls to bombard Washingtonians with deceptive marketing and now they are paying the price. My office will continue to be a watchdog to protect Washingtonians from illegal robocalls and deceptive marketing.”
The court previously found US Air Ducts and DLM Services violated state laws in multiple ways, including:
- Making millions of robocalls to more than a million Washingtonians without their permission, violating the Washington Auto Dialing and Announcing Device statute (WADAD).
- Deceiving Washingtonians by disguising their caller IDs to mislead them as to who was calling, violating the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
- Making millions of robocalls to hundreds of thousands of Washington telephone numbers on the federal Do Not Call registry, in violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
- Mailing advertisements implying the promotional price for the service in the advertisements was a reduction from the regular price and was only a “limited time offer” ― neither of which was true ― violating the Consumer Protection Act.
- DLM Services created fake Google reviews to misrepresent its reputation to Washingtonians, violating the Consumer Protection Act.
Deceptive and unfair advertisements
The companies’ robocalls promoted a “limited time offer” for air duct cleaning. US Air Ducts and DLM Services bought lists of Washington consumers’ information and made thousands of robocalls per day, making more than 13 million calls to more than 1 million Washingtonians. Many Washingtonians complained that the companies continued to call them despite being on the federal Do Not Call registry or after asking the companies to stop contacting them.
The companies never used their real names for the caller ID. Instead, they used various fake company names to mislead Washingtonians as to who was calling and to appear to be located within the consumer’s area, such as “Seattle Duct Cleaning.”
The companies also mailed advertisements offering a coupon for the same “limited time offer” as the robocalls. The coupon advertised a supposedly reduced price of $29 to $55 without listing any limits or exclusions, such as the fact that only half of the heating and cooling system is included. These advertisements also listed the “special” price as a limited time offer, even though the coupon provided no expiration date, creating a false sense of urgency.
DLM Services generated fake Google reviews, which misrepresented that the company has earned five star reviews from nearly 100 consumers within a one-week period.
Assistant Attorneys General Mina Shahin and Kate Barach of the office’s Consumer Protection Division handled the case for Washington.
What are robocalls?
Robocalls are calls made with automated dialing systems that can dial hundreds or thousands of calls from anywhere in the world. Once a person answers the phone, a recorded message will play.
Many robocalls originate from overseas, making it difficult to track their origin and stop the individuals responsible for the calls.
Newer technology enables robocallers to use what is called “spoofing.” Spoofing allows the dialer to deliberately manipulate the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. A spoofed call can appear to be coming from the same area code, and even the same three-digit prefix, as the dialed number receiver. Robocallers can even set the caller ID to display the number of a specific individual, business or government organization, such as the Internal Revenue Service.
Scammers often use caller ID spoofing to trick consumers into thinking that a call is coming from a neighbor, their local police department or the federal government.
Only certain types of robocalls are allowed without express consent from a consumer. It is illegal for a company to use robocalls to contact someone to sell products or services without permission.
What should you do if you receive a robocall?
The best advice for Washingtonians who receive a robocall without their permission is to hang up.
Some robocalls may give you an option to opt out of receiving future calls, but if the caller is a scammer, they are unlikely to honor your request. If you believe a call is a scam, report it to the Attorney General’s Office at atg.wa.gov/file-complaint or call toll-free 1-800-551-4636. Washingtonians also can report robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission at https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx.
Some phone and wireless services offer call blocking or labeling services to help individuals determine whether a call is a telemarketer or a scammer. Consumers should contact their service provider to find out what is available.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Dan Jackson, Acting Communications Director, (360) 753-2716; email@example.com
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