You've probably heard about the dangers of mold in your home. It can be hazardous to your health. It's that fear that one local company may be using to deceive consumers.
A WHNT News 19 Taking Action Investigation warns you about the practices of Pure Kleen. You may have seen their full-page ads in the newspaper promoting air duct cleaning at a relatively low price. Our hidden camera investigation reveals what happens when they come to your home may end up costing you.
Ken Payer is the owner of Pure Kleen LLC. When we tried to talk to him about his business practices, he got in his car and sped off.
His assistant is a woman named Lori Miller. Payer also has a bodyguard.
When we tried to Take Action and Get Results for a WHNT NEWS 19 viewer, Payer's bodyguard used the company's ad to cover our camera lens and then he prevented us from going anywhere near Ken Payer.
Our investigation began after a Pure Kleen customer contacted us concerned about how things unfolded with Pure Kleen. She does not want to be identified because she's far too embarrassed.
She said, "Well, I thought that was a pretty good deal. Ten vents, one main and one return," referring to Pure Kleen's full-page ad in the local newspaper promoting air duct cleaning for $79.95.
"First thing they said as I went to the door was you have mold and you need to take care of it. And, we can do it. I thought how did they know I had mold? In fact, I asked that question and he said, 'Oh, we can smell it.' So pretty good nose there."
We asked her if they told her she had mold in her house even before they stepped foot in the house.
She responded, "They were standing at the door."
Being told she had mold in her house was alarming. She said, "I have a grandchild who has asthma. I have a grandchild who has cystic fibrosis and I thought, you know, if I have mold, I need that taken care of."
So, she gave Pure Kleen the go-ahead.
She watched the Pure Kleen technicians do their thing. She said, "They used a brush and a vacuum and cleaned the vents and then they sprayed something in after they cleaned. And, that was chemicals to kill the mold." Or so they said. And then, she said, "They gave me a bill for $5,000. It went suddenly from $79.95 to $5,000."
"I fell for it," she said. And, then she gave them a check for $5,000.
But something didn't sound right. "I think it's a rip-off. They've been trained to say this," she told us.
"We are trained to look for mold, find mold. And even if we don't find mold, we're told to call in write up a huge estimate and call in for a discount."
The man who spoke to us did so on the condition of anonymity. He knows the Pure Kleen practices all too well. He said, "They come into town, they rape the town and then they leave."
Now he wants to expose their tactics. He admitted to us that the instant mold test kits Pure Kleen uses to detect the presence of mold are all for show. He said, "We use false mold test kits that always turn up purple, always turn up positive for mold. I could swab my leg and it would turn up positive for mold."
He said the deception went further in terms of the instant mold test kits. "A lot of times we ran out. So, we used the old ones that were purple already. And, went and would swab not letting the customer see it," he said.
We wanted to see for ourselves what happens on a Pure Kleen service call. So, we rigged a house with multiple hidden cameras and arranged for Pure Kleen to come out and perform its air duct cleaning special advertised in the newspaper for $79.95.
Our undercover producer greets the Pure Kleen representatives. They ask him for a tour of the house so they can see where the vents are located.
After they check out the first floor of the house, they head up the stairs to check out the attic. Then our producer asks about the company's free mold test shown on its advertisement.
Our producer asked, "Your ad says something about a mold test?" One of the technicians replied, "Yes, we'll do that too."
The technician swabs the edges of the vent. He shows our undercover producer the instant mold test swab. He explained the process, "Put that in the tube. Break the seal. Let it go down there."
He tells him the color green is good. He said gray is fair and said when you see its purple you've got a mold situation that needs to be taken care of.
In no time, the technician said, "It takes about 10 minutes." He shows our undercover producer the tube and said, "See already it's purple."
The hidden camera captures him saying, "There's definitely a mold situation."
They give us an estimate of $657.95 to clean the vents and get rid of the alleged mold problem.
And before they leave, they make one last pitch about the mold saying, "You've got to get it at the source."
When complaints started coming in, red flags started going up for Michele McDaniel. She's the President of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama.
"We are very concerned that someone is told they have mold in their home the minute someone walks in the door without any true testing," said McDaniel.
Pure Kleen's record with the Better Business Bureau is not spotless. In fact, in early October it was an "F." Those complaints have since been resolved.
However, new complaints have come in to the BBB WHNT NEWS 19 Consumer Action Line. So we went in search of answers by tracking down owner Ken Payer at a local motel where he was staying.
We got brushed off as we approached him getting out of his car. He asked us to turn off our camera, and when we didn't, he got back in his car and took off.
He could run, but not hide. We found him minutes later at the Pure Kleen Office located at 123 Castle Drive in Madison.
He pulled his car into the garage and closed it. So, we went inside to try to talk to him. But, instead we were met by his bodyguard who denied knowing him and told us to leave.
We got a very clear indication Ken Payer wasn't coming out when we called him and he said, "No I ain't coming outside."
We're not giving up on getting Ken Payer to answer our questions.
In fact, he's going to have a lot of answering to do. We're tracking down new information about him and the company every day.
We promise to stay on top of it and let you know what's going on.
We want to make a distinction. Pure Kleen should not be confused with another company out of Athens called Puro Clean.
It's also important to point out that the woman in our story acted on her instincts and was able to put a stop payment on that $5,000 check.
In the hidden camera video, we heard the Pure Kleen reps say that house had mold. We're in the process of getting the undercover house independently tested.
However, a real mold test takes days for thorough analysis. Experts in the industry and the Alabama Department of Public Health contend you can't accurately determine if a house has mold with one of those instant test kits.
Neil Matson with Terrell Technical Services said, "I wouldn't call them reliable. They should be followed up with some real analytical tests in a laboratory."
We'll of course reveal the results of our test when we get them back.
In the meantime, there are plenty of upstanding air duct cleaning and mold remediation companies in the Tennessee Valley.
The best way to find a company you can trust is to contact the Better Business Bureau WHNT NEWS 19 Consumer Action Line at 519-3519 or toll-free at 1-866-94-BBB19 (1-8666-942-2219).