Water sampling teams could be scamming for sales

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A team of people recently knocking on doors throughout the county might look official, but officials say their interest in residents’ water quality is likely a scam.

“Every few years, they come through town and try to sell people water-treatments systems,” said City of Washington Public Works Director Adam Waters.

Waters said he’s had reports from customers questioning the identity of the people going door-to-door implying there’s a problem with the water in certain neighborhoods and asking to take samples. That exact scenario happened in Pamlico Village on June 1.

“There were two women going door to door, canvassing our street,” said Chris Donahue, a Pamlico Village resident. “When they first came to the door, they said they were sent to check the water because a neighbor had reported discolored water. It was thinly veiled to sound as though the city sent them.”

The city did not, according to Waters. He said he’s seen this before, and the goal is to convince homeowners they need to buy a very expensive water-treatment system.

“In my view, it’s very bad sales tactics that they use. It’s borderline criminal, if not flat-out criminal,” Waters said.

Waters said past tactics have included homeowners witnessing a “test” of their water by putting an electrode in a water sample, then charging it. The result is iron flaking off into the water, making it appear discolored, Waters said.

“Of course people panic. They don’t know any better,” Waters said. “They use these tactics and scare people into buying these systems. … That’s some of the tactics I have seen in the past that they have done. I’m not saying they’re doing this this time around, but I have seen them do that.”

Donahue said five days after she handed over a small water sample, she started receiving phone calls from the Jacksonville area; the callers did not leave messages. When she did answer, she was told there was something wrong with her water, and the company needed to send a water technician to the house for a follow up, Donahue said.

“I ask, ‘What’s wrong with my water?’ (She says) she can’t tell me because she’s not ‘certified.’ I say, ‘Oh, you’re selling something.’ She says no, but if the tech comes out and retests my water, he can make recommendations on how to make my water better,” Donahue said.

“If they’re telling people there’s something wrong with the water, then, yes, that is a crime,” Waters said.

He said past solicitations led at least one homeowner to buy an unnecessary $25,000 water-treatment system.

“If anybody has concerns about the quality of their water, call the city,” Waters said. “We will gladly come out and look at what concerns they have.”

While city employees will, on occasion, pick up samples throughout the system, Waters said there is no question as to their identity: employees with the water department drive city vehicles and have city ID badges.