Chris Hansen and Dateline NBC just aired a hidden-camera report on fraud in the world of air duct cleaning.  The fraudsters who perpetrate these scams dupe owners — some of them vulnerable or aged — out of clean ducts and into a bill that’s ten-fold higher than advertised.

Unfortunately, these schemes make business difficult for the good-faith companies.  So it’s important to know that not all air duct cleaning is a scam.  At the same time, air duct cleaning may or may not be necessary.

According to the EPA, you should consider air duct cleaning if (1) there is substantial visible mold growth inside hard-surface ducts, (2) ducts are infested with vermin, or (3) ducts are clogged with dust/debris or particles are released into the home through air registers.

In addition, watch out for hucksters with sweeping “health benefit” claims because, the EPA advises, a light amount of household dust hasn’t necessarily been shown to be a risk to human health.

If you’re looking for a reliable air duct cleaner, perhaps a good place to start is with a referral or a search via the National Air Duct Cleaners Association.  After that, you’ll want to ask for licenses, look into the contractor’s background, and search for BBB complaints.  A little common sense and scrutiny will help, too.

[+] More info on air duct cleaning from the EPA.