Melody is a volunteer for the Center for Disease and Control Prevention. She enjoys sharing her personal experience with others.
Spotting Mold Scams
Mold remediation scams are dishonest attempts to defraud homeowners. Mold scams are considered both health-related and financial fraud. They target your fears, and offer false hope. It's necessary for conscientious consumers to know how to identify fraudsters and spot a scam before they cause harm or steal your money.
Those who commit this type of fraud often prey on those who are post-natural disaster and try to blend in with real agencies who can help you, such as The Red Cross, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, legit church groups, and FEMA. Always know who you are talking to, and make sure you're talking to a real representative of the group or company.
What Mold Remediation Consists of:
- Identifying mold
- Stopping or reducing the cause of the moisture.
- Measures to prevent further mold growth
- Cleaning up the mold safely
- Cleaning up or replacing walls, beams, and other objects damaged by mold
You need to know that the mold removal and remediation industry is a legitimate industry marred by dishonest people who are looking for easy money. Understanding how legitimate mold removal is done is the first step in identifying a scam. Due to erratic severe weather patterns fraught with typhoons, tropical storms, flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes, people must be as aware as possible of these types of life issues.
Mold removal is a highly regulated field, and the worker's ability should reflect the expertise. Real members of the field never fearmonger as you see with con artists. Many people know the difficulty water damage causes to their homes. Yet, when traumatic weather takes the wheel, it's not always easy to know the steps to repairing a damaged home.
We must stop thieves from taking advantage of these people in need of true water damage specialists. Just know that scam artists work by exploiting human fear. Mold can be frightening and intimidating, making it the perfect industry for scam artists to emulate. Do a lot of research, and make sure any mold removal specialist knows their stuff.
If you do experience a natural disaster, find a group to get tarps on your roof ASAP.
Signs of a Mold Scam
Many mold scams are perpetrated by under-experienced contractors or handymen who have no real experience with mold remediation. There are many signs that you might be getting duped.
Qualified mold experts hold themselves to professional standards and always follow EPA guidelines (which anyone can learn about on the EPA government website).
Signs and warnings of mold scams:
- Only offers visual inspection
- Estimate doesn't address the moisture issue that caused the mold to grow
- Discourages self-testing or getting a second opinion
- Charges a fee for a mold-free certificate
- Does not instruct damaged roofs to be covered with tarps until repair
- Threatens to turn you in to agencies if you don't use their service
- Says they fixed your mold but have no debris to remove when there is clearly permanent structural damage or visible debris
- According to one source, the average mold removal costs from $400 to $6,000. Anything higher could be a scam.
- The deal seems too good to be true.
- Overly large deposit or requiring full payment upfront
- Has a lot of negative online reviews
- The contractor makes you feel afraid
- Have no certifications or references to prove mold remediation experience
- Material used to enclose existing mold that can not be removed is opaque and/or not clear (they hide the truth under dark coverings or tarps
- Suggests HVAC clean out without testing
- Has no plan for using a HEPA air purifier directly for mold removal and clean up
- The vacuum contractor uses has no HEPA filter
- There is no guarantee
- Does not differentiate between harmless mold and harmful "toxic" molds
- Contractor has no awareness of the effects of condensation and humidity on mold
- Shows up after a natural disaster but has no official website or any corresponding online reviews, information, or contact info. Or the business shows on Google maps, but isn't in the given location.
Scam or Lack of Experience?
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a scam and a lack of experience. Some contractors retain their expertise status and offer to do work that they are not familiar with. In life, we often run into new situations. But experts should always know the basics and have more information than a Google search can give you.
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Not everyone is trying to scam you, but it might happen due to a lack of experience on the part of the contractor. When it comes to your home, a firm, polite no will suffice. If you feel uncomfortable with the contractor's language, they make you feel uneasy or intimidated, you have every right to get a second opinion. If someone honest makes a mistake. they will try to fix their mistake. Scammers never make up for errors; they just keep telling your story or just flat-out vanish.
Scammers are hidden in the nooks and cranny of our capitalist society. They offer services they never intend to provide. They might even pretend like they did work just to collect the buck. Others may never show up at all.
This is why you must check references with mold contractors. You are already educating yourself, so keep up the good work. Take some time to learn about your specific mold problem.
Do-It-Yourself Mold Testing
Do-it-yourself mold testing is one way to know if your contractor is telling you the truth about the severity of the problem. According to Home Advisor, professional mold tests cost between $300 to $500. Do-it-yourself tests are usually much cheaper.
There are two ways to handle this. You can go to your local Home Depot or Lowe's and buy your own test kit. Or, you can work directly with an unbiased mold analysis lab service, such as EMLab P&K.
Post-Natural Disaster Molds (Tornado and Hurricane)
Post-natural disaster mold is a real threat to people who are already under great strain. My experience with an EF-4 tornado that hit 17 miles of my town made me extra aware of how mold makes a disaster worse. If your home has new cracks, has lost roofing and shingles, missing or damaged chimney caps, or there has been damage to gutters, then you are at high risk for mold growth.
You are also at risk of scammers who want to take advantage of the great confusion and pressure that comes after natural disaster strikes. Be aware that there are lots of groups that will be on their way to help. In these cases, it's best to focus on getting tarps over damaged parts of your roof or house to prevent water damage (damage that will cause mold). FEMA may take a few weeks (in my case, it could be more in yours), but in the meantime, the Red Cross and groups like Samaritan's Purse will be on the scene as soon as possible. After a disaster, consult these groups to help you avoid mold and other types of post-disaster scams.
Mold in the Kitchen
Kitchen mold is often found under the sink, floor, or in the trashcan. This usually happens when owners neglect to sanitize them regularly. Luckily, they are easy to replace.
If you are attached to your trashcan, then you can attempt to clean it with bleach, vinegar, or a mold fogger. If you have an asthmatic in your home or anyone with an immune or lung disorder, you need to engage in regular cleaning of your trash bin to prevent this mold from becoming air born and circulated in the air conditioning.
Once mold reaches the air ducts, there is little choice but to seek a professional. Leaky sinks are another place where this type of mold loves to grow. Damp wallpaper and decomposing wood are perfect places for mold to thrive.
Prevention is always the best course of action. Leaky sinks should always be fixed right away. This mold aggregates in areas that are impossible to clean. Once it is under the sink cabinet and under the wallpaper, it could become time for costly removal and replacement of the material.
This is the point where you may no longer have a do-it-yourself problem. A good professional might be needed, making it necessary to know how to identify a scam.
Have you ever had a pile of clothing get wet and then mold? This is a perfect example of mold growth. Many molds love porous cloth. Carpets are especially vulnerable to moisture and mold.
When the carpet is vacuumed, the mold spores are then released into the air. There are many ways that carpet could become overgrown with mold. If you have an air purifier with a HEPA filter, you need to keep it running when vacuuming the possibly molded carpet.
When a carpet gets wet, the underside and carpet pad may not dry quickly. The wet and dark can cause it to grow beneath the carpet.
Carpet cleaning, while often a good thing, can also be the culprit. Professionals know not to over-dampen the carpet, but there are many at-home carpet cleaning machines.
Many people try to soak a stain to get it out and end up causing the underside and pad of the carpet to become too wet.
Sometimes do-it-yourself carpet cleaning can actually cost you more because moldy carpet will need to be replaced if you can not locate a cloth and carpet restoration service.
Mold is not just found in carpets but can be found in any cloth item that has been damp for a long period of time. Some mold removal services can restore moldy carpet. Other contractors may tell you to replace the carpet entirely. That doesn't necessarily make them scammers, though.
Bathrooms are a favorite place for mold to grow. When bathrooms become humid, the wetness can settle any place in the bathroom. It can start to grow unnoticed as it seeps into cracks in the walls and floor. Leaks can also cause mold to grow in walls, under sinks, and floors.
It can sneak under wallpaper and around the toilet. This is why building regulations require a window or an exhaust fan in bathrooms.
The idea is to help the bathroom humidity to be removed quickly before it has a chance to settle someplace where mold can grow.
A well-ventilated bathroom is far less likely to allow mold growth. Any organic material is susceptible, is it is best to use good paint instead of wallpaper in bathrooms.
Never carpet a bathroom, and replace or launder bathroom carpets regularly. When building a bathroom, try to use synthetic materials during construction.
Well-sealed homes may entrap more moisture. This makes bathrooms, under the floors, and in the walls very susceptible to mold.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2015 Melody Collins
Marni on September 01, 2018:
Thanks for educating me, as I am dealing with my crawlspace.
Ivan Hernandez on December 19, 2017:
Thank you for a useful article. When I own a house someday (0.000000001% chance of that happening within the next 40 years), I'll keep an eye out for any scammers who want to take advantage of my mold situation. I'll refer back to this article in the future.