Anderson Water Investigation
I-Team 10 Investigation: Troubled water
Posted at: 05/02/2012 4:01 PM
| Updated at: 05/02/2012 6:23 PM
You've heard that jingle through the years with its familiar refrain telling you to "tap into Anderson."
But I-Team 10 has been speaking with customers of Anderson Water Systems who say they were the ones being tapped ... charged for products and services they feel they didn't need.
Carla Garwood of Conesus bought a water softener from Anderson in 1995. Manufactured by General Ionics, the model IQ boasted technology used by NASA. And while most systems use sodium chloride (or salt) to soften the water, Garwood says she was told by Anderson that this one ran on something better.
"We were told it ran on potassium and that it had a lifetime warranty," said Garwood.
John Donaldson of Newark says he was told the same thing when he had his system installed.
"their system used potassium," said Donaldson.
He even showed us the owner's manual, which describes potassium as his water conditioner's fuel.
"All I know is this is what we have and this is what we go by," he said.
But I-Team 10 has uncovered a bit of information some Anderson customers might not know. The Ionics systems they were sold also operate on sodium (salt), which is currently five times less expensive than potassium.
"We were never told that we could use salt in our water system," said Garwood.
We sat down with former Anderson employee Todd Hart, who says he feels bad for customers. Hart worked for Anderson for eight ears, until he was let go in 2009. He now works for a competitor.
Hart says Anderson president Tom Gerstner marketed potassium for the water softeners long before anyone else was ever selling it.
"For him that was an exclusive product. So to be exclusive you had to purchase through him. It just gave him more residual income," said Hart.
Written right on the customer contracts it states that they must purchase their potassium from Anderson. So why is that? Who better to ask than the pitchman himself. I-Team 10 tracked down Tom Gerstner for answers.
"We're in a constant pursuit to help customer to save money," Gerstener told us.
He claims they never misrepresented the systems they sold to thousands of customers throughout the state.
"You can make it sound as if we purposely tried to tell people that you could only use potassium in the machine. Brett, we never did that," he said.
But Bonnie Bertino of Newark says they never mentioned salt to her. She bought a system from Anderson in 1994 and used about a bag of potassium per week. But a few years ago, the price of potassium skyrocketed.
"$22 a bag. I can't afford $22 a bag," she told I-Team 10.
So she called Anderson and was relieved to hear of a solution. They told her they could convert her system so it would operate on salt.
"I said ok, then let's change to salt. And she said ok then we gotta come and put in a conversion kit to do that. And that's what they did," recalled Bertino.
For $345 Anderson claimed on the invoice that they installed a sodium conversion kit. Donaldson and Garwood also paid for conversions.
But Hart says there is no "kit," and when he was there he says he went to Gerstner to express his concerns.
"And I told him, if go into a house and want to charge them 350 bucks, they're going to want to know what I'm doing for that $350."
Gerstner denies they ever did anything unethical, and while he concedes the part about a "kit" may be poorly worded, he says a conversion is necessary and involves changing the settings because the system uses more potassium than sodium.
"So if we don't change the settings on the machine for them, they will end up spending more money for salt than what they need to," said Gerstner.
But what about the owner's manual that Donaldson showed us that references potassium? We discovered there are two versions. Gerstner admits they altered the original, with the manufacturer's permission (he says to eliminate confusion).
I-Team 10 obtained a copy of the original and it references only salt.
In a two page letter to I-Team 10, Puronics executive Jeffrey Atkinson says their water conditioners are "capable of using either potassium chloride or sodium chloride" and "do not require, nor have they ever required any kind of conversion."
As to the owner's manual, Atkinson says Puronics and its predecessor
"never authorized any of its present or former dealers to alter Puronics
product descriptions, labeling, manuals or other information..."
As for Garwood, she says she hasn't calculated exactly how much money she could have saved over the years by using salt instead of potassium but figures it's a couple thousand dollars.
"We're feeling a bit resentful for having paid for potassium that long when we really didn't need to," she said.
We have heard the New York State Attorney General's Office is taking an active interest in this case. I-Team 10 contacted the office and they tell us they are aware of the situation involving Anderson but would not comment on a possible investigation.
However, Hart says he has been asked to give a sworn affidavit to the AG's office later this week.
We also checked and found that Anderson Water Systems is a member of the Better Business Bureau. According to their website, Anderson has had 23 complaints over the past three years, a relatively small number given the volume of systems they install.
However, they have a "B" rating, which the BBB says is the lowest a member can have and still remain accredited.
If you feel you have an issue with Anderson Water Systems, the Attorney General's Office asks that you file a complaint with them. Their phone number is 546-7430.
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