A California-based company may be attempting to con Hispanic families in Hermiston out of thousands of dollars for un-needed and overpriced water purification systems.
Last week, the Oregon Department of Justice subpoenaed a trio of related California-based companies, American Home Solutions, American Home Solutions, Jr. and Aquakleen Products, Inc., requesting information about their customers and business practices. According to the Department of Justice's director of communications and policy, Tony Green, the investigation stems from "multi-layered" complaints - for example, that customers were sold a product that wasn't needed, didn't work, and then were forced to pay hidden fees.
"We want to find out who they did business with here... and obtain restitution for people, if that's appropriate," Green said.
So far, most of the complaints have come from Medford, where at least 22 people said an agent from the company conned them into buying a water purification system at an inflated price and then slapped on extra fees later. The Help Now! Advocacy Center, an non-profit organization in southern Oregon that works to resolve disputes, is trying to help American Home Solutions customers get their money back or stop payments if they financed the water system.
Larry Kahn, the director of Help Now! said the companies targeted Hispanic families in the area.
"The gist of what's going on here is they are running a bogus water test," he said.
Company agents arrive at peoples' homes with an official-looking card that reads "water analyst," then ask to test the water, Kahn said, and when it comes up positive for chlorine - which most cities add to water - they tell people that they need a water purification system.
One recent Help Now! client told Kahn that a company agent told him the city's toilet water was being circulated for use in homes. Another client said an agent brought in corroded pipes and explained that those under his family's home were most likely just as bad.
"The number of stories is just ridiculous," Kahn said.
Kahn said that many Hispanics in the Medford area fell for the scam because they come from areas in Mexico where the water is indeed not good. American Home Solutions and Aquakleen agents also told their clients that the U.S. Government was lying about water quality which, again, those fresh from Mexico were more likely to believe - a "third-world mentality" Kahn said.
Kahn said that American Home Solutions and its sister companies also charged its Medford clients exorbitant prices.
"This equipment should be costing between five and eight hundred dollars but they're charging roughly 10 times that" he said.
American Home Solutions agents are also installing water softeners without a plumber's or journeyman's license, according to Andrea Simmons, the deputy administrator for building codes for the state of Oregon. Simmons said her agency had an open case into the matter, but was coordinating with the Attorney General in his investigation.
Simmons added that American Home Solutions agents are also working without a Construction Contractor's Board license.
Only one person from Hermiston has officially complained to the department of justice about American Home Solutions or Aquakleen, but Kahn said there may be far more victims that are not speaking up.
The companies have until July 1 to release information about their customers and business practices. Green said that the Attorney General's office has not concluded that they are specifically targeting the Hispanic population.
"Whether they are focusing on Hispanics is certainly a question, but at this point that's all it is," he said.