Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Vancouver air-duct cleaners, owner ordered to pay $10 million in civil penalties

State AG's lawsuit targeted deceptive advertising, unfair sales practices

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:

The state Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday that two Vancouver air-duct cleaning companies, owned by the same man, have been ordered to pay $10 million in civil penalties for engaging in deceptive advertising and unfair sales practices.

The companies, US Air Ducts & Sky Builders Inc. and DLM Services, made over 13 million robocalls within the state from 2017 to 2019, including calling more than 500 individual Washington residents over 100 times.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the companies in King County Superior Court in September, which also named owner Rami Mornel and general manager David Moshe as defendants.

The penalties, to be paid by the companies and Mornel, will be directed to the state’s general fund.

Dan Jackson, communications consultant for the Attorney General’s Office, said in an email that the state reached a separate resolution with Moshe. He did not elaborate on what the resolution entailed.

In May, Judge Susan Craighead ruled that the companies and Mornel violated the Consumer Protection Act in numerous ways, including robocalling state residents without permission, misleading people about who was calling and posting fake Google reviews to falsely build their brand, according to the attorney general.

The judge’s order 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 (them) with deceptive marketing, and now they are paying the price.”

The lawsuit alleged that over at least two years, the companies made thousands of robocalls per day to more than 1 million people, and “spoofed” their caller IDs to mislead them about who was calling. The companies sent tens of millions of deceptive mailed advertisements that promoted “limited time offers” at reduced pricing and misled consumers of a “VIP membership” that had little or no value.

For individuals who responded to the calls and mailers, technicians, who were instructed to attempt to upsell expensive additional services, would visit their home for a consultation and cleaning, according to the lawsuit. Though the companies never set a fixed price, technicians were given a preferred range prior to visits, the lawsuit claims.

Additionally, the memberships were promoted as guaranteeing a number of annual services, including air duct cleaning, even though it only meant that technicians would provide yearly visual inspections at the consumer’s request, the attorney general’s office said. The lawsuit asserts that residents who cancelled their memberships would often not receive a refund for any remaining years of the agreement.

The Attorney General’s Office said that it received dozens of complaints and that nearly 120 grievances were filed with the Federal Trade Commission. One included an 82-year-old widowed woman who purchased a $1,200 membership, and another involved a man — originally contacting the company to clean his dead mother’s home — who paid $2,318 for the membership but was charged an additional $1,380 when he asked to transfer the membership and have the air ducts in his home cleaned, the office said.

Mornel ceased operating the US Air Ducts and then opened DLM; the two businesses were not operated during the same time frame, Jackson said. US Air Ducts was in operation for a longer period of time than DLM, so would be responsible for a larger number of violations over a longer period of time, he said.

US Air Ducts & Sky Builders Inc., listed as a Washington corporation, is currently inactive after failing, for the second time since 2017, to file an annual report to the state, according to Secretary of State’s Office records. Mornel was listed as a registrant with DLM Services, which was incorporated in January 2019.

Attempts to reach the company and Mornel on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Responding to robocalls

Those who receive potential scam calls are advised to immediately hang up, report it to the Attorney General’s Office at atg.wa.gov/file-complaint or call toll-free 800-551-4636. Reports may also be sent the Federal Trade Commission at https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx.

Some phone service providers also offer call blocking or labeling services.

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