April 3, 2004 -- How much does it cost to make a simple repair on a dishwasher? Eight Long Island, N.Y.-area companies observed by ABCNEWS hidden cameras charged just $45 to $76 for one repair, but the price a ninth company charged might have consumers hanging on to their silverware.
ABCNEWS had an experienced repairman, Daniel Force of General Keystone Appliance Service, disable a dishwasher in Good Morning America's hidden-camera-equipped "rip-off house" by moving the door latch out of alignment.
"It would be a simple two-screw adjustment that anybody can make very easily," Force said.
Sure enough, most companies fixed the problem for a reasonable fee, but then the guys from Active Appliance showed up.
In two decades, Active Appliance, doing business under many names, has racked up more than 800 complaints. Authorities were so fed up with the rip-offs, they even threw two former owners — a husband and wife — in jail.
So it may not be a surprise that the price of ABCNEWS' repair job is about to go through the roof. For the same repair others had done for as little as $45, Active charged $248.
"It is a rip-off; it's a horrendous rip-off," said Roger Bogsted, the consumer affairs commissioner for Nassau County, N.Y. "I don't know how you can justify charging that amount of money for tightening a screw on a latch. That's unconscionable."
This isn't the first time Active Appliance has had a starring role in an ABCNEWS hidden camera investigation: Three years ago, Diane Sawyer was reporting on repair scams for Primetime, and guess who showed up to fix their dishwasher — Active Appliance, then doing business as Reliance Appliance. What's more, one of the repairmen was the very same guy who came to the Good Morning America rip-off house.
Like GMA's dishwasher, the one Primetime used back then needed only minor repairs, but the guys from Reliance Appliance carted it away. The repairmen returned the dishwasher nine days later and charged the homeowner $355.87 for the service call and new motor — except an examination showed the company had left in the original motor.
"That's a larceny," Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon told ABCNEWS' Sawyer at the time.
At the Good Morning America rip-off house, ABCNEWS figured $248 for 13 minutes of work amounted to about $1,000 an hour, and that there are rocket scientists that don't make $1,000 an hour.
"I don't make $1,000 an hour either," said Roy, the repairman for Active Appliance, when confronted. "Not me. I don't get none of it. I get a paycheck."
The repairman said not to blame him, that the office sets the prices. And when ABCNEWS called Active Appliance, they insisted the fee was fair and reasonable.
How can it be that $248 for less than 15 minutes of work is not a rip-off?
"It's fixed," Roy said.