WBTV Investigates: Hidden camera watches repairman at work

Published: May. 2, 2014 at 3:30 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - If you have a garage what happened to Dorcas Ruppert will at some point happen to you.

"The door was banging," said Ruppert. "A really loud bang."

What happened to her next hopefully won't happen to you. She needed a repair company and Garage Door Services (GDS) had just happened to send an offer to her mailbox.

"It said senior discounts so I thought well, I'll give them a call," said Ruppert.

A repairman arrived later that day and told her she needed a new spring. She paid just under $900.

"That's very high," said Chandler Potts.

Potts works for Charlotte-based Lighthouse Door. He says his company charges $267.10 total for a spring replacement.  Other disgruntled customers of GDS have also contacted WBTV and provided to us their invoices.  We asked Potts to compare prices those customers paid for parts. One of them paid $279 for a part called an end bearing plate.

"Outrageous," said Potts. "It's like a $30 to $40 (part) depending on the size.

Another customer paid $179 for a center bearing.

"Now that's the thing that really gets me because that is a nylon bearing that literally costs the customer 5 dollars," said Potts.

In the case of Ruppert, the spring replacement didn't even fix the problem. Another GDS repairman was called out.  Ruppert was told she needed a support bar across the length of the door. They charged her nearly $300 more.

"I'm not affluent," said Ruppert. "I'm on social security."

Tiffany Hawks also had an encounter with Garage Door Services. Albeit unexpected. Her remotes went on the blink. The system was put in by Overhead Door. She says she typed "Overhead Door Charlotte" into the internet search engine Google.

"It pops up a website that look like Overhead Door," said Hawks.

It isn't, the website Charlotte Overhead Doors dot com is actually Garage Door Services. Hawks says when she called, the dispatcher told her the service call would $39. She says the repairman on site told her she owed $125 extra. After the repairman left, she lowered her door and noticed a sticker in the garage for the real Overhead Door. It's when she realized it's not who was at her house.

"I got sick to my stomach because that I thought who are these people?" said Hawks.

Finding an office for Garage Door Services proved to be a challenge. One address on-line has it located in an uptown officer tower. Another had an address listed as 580 West W.T. Harris Boulevard. Neither is correct.

It's why "WBTV Investigates" decided to call a GDS repairman out to the house of a WBTV producer, but before we did we asked Lighthouse Door to come over and check the garage door system, to make sure it was working properly. The operator, springs and rails were all in good shape.

We then simply removed one wire from one of the electronic eyes in the corner. We wanted to see if GDS could spot it and what we would be charged. We had a woman volunteer to be our homeowner. She explained on the phone the door would not open or close when the remote, or wall button was pushed.

A dispatcher told us the service charge would be $39 and within a couple hours the repairman showed up. WBTV had placed a hidden camera in the garage to watch him work.

Our stand-in homeowner explained to him the problem and handed him the remote.

"Alright let's check it out and see what's going on," said the repairman.

He walked around the garage glancing at various parts and pushing a few buttons.

"Nothing," he blurted out.

Four minutes later he had a diagnosis.

"I think you're going to need a new operator," said the repairman.

He never went in the corner where the wire was loose and the woman acting as our homeowner repeatedly asked a variation of the same question.

"Is that the only possibility?" she asked. "That's the only thing it could be?"

"Yes ma'am," said the repairman.

The new operator he said would cost $451. It would be another $200 to install it.

We then walked into the garage and introduced ourselves as being from WBTV News.  The repairman, whose first name was Jeff, wouldn't give us his last name. We showed him the loose wire and asked why we would charge us more than $600 dollars for such a simple problem.

"Now, if I would have known that (was the problem) I wouldn't have," he said.

After admitting he didn't check the wire, we asked if he was trying to take advantage of people.

"I don't think we are," said Jeff. "I mean we perform a service. Granted mistakes can be made you know. (I'm not) denying that, I'm human."

He wouldn't tell us the name of his bosses, or where the company's offices are located. Their invoices show an address in San Diego, California. We gave our repairman, who was not the same tech called out to the other customers we talked to,  a business card and asked him to have the owner of the company call us.

We heard back from a man named Jason. When we asked him for his last name he hung up on us, but before that he told us he wanted to help the disgruntled customers who had contacted us. He said he would call us back. A representative from Garage Door Services instead called Ruppert and told her they would be returning $816.

The Better Business Bureau had given the company an A- rating until a recent rash of complaints. The BBB now says the rating for Garage Door Services is now under review.

We can tell you new mailers have gone out to homeowners in our area in recent days. One coupon is for a company called "Jimmy's Garage Doors." The phone number listed will connect you to Garage Door Services.

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