A Philadelphia-based home warranty company scammed at least 160 consumers across the country, cheating them by falsely advertising services, wrongfully denying claims, and charging credit cards without consent, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office claimed in a new lawsuit.
The suit takes aim at Secure Home Warranty, which went out of business in 2017, and its former officers, Elliot Ashkenazie and Alan Maleh, both of Brooklyn. The complaint also names First Choice Home Warranty, another Philadelphia company that Maleh set up in 2017, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
The state claims Secure Home Warranty charged consumers hundreds of dollars for service contracts but didn’t pay for repairs using a host of deceptive tactics, and avoided detection using aliases and operating out of virtual offices.
The lawsuit, filed in April in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, asks a judge to permanently ban Ashkenazie, Maleh, and the companies from operating a warranty business in Pennsylvania. The state also seeks damages and restitution, and requests fines of $1,000 per violation of the state’s consumer fraud law and $3,000 for violations against seniors.
"These scammers left consumers out to dry by refusing to provide the services they promised, namely, 24/7 access to a claim center that would assist in the repair or replacement of systems and appliances,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.
Ashkenazie, identified in the suit as a former owner of Secure Home Warranty, denied that he owned the company when reached by phone Thursday. He said he worked there “for a brief period,” but knew nothing of the alleged business practices outlined in the lawsuit.
“I don’t what know the heck you’re talking about," Ashkenazie said, and despite being named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by an attorney general, he wasn’t interested in reading the complaint. “I don’t need a copy,” he said. “Let it work itself out.”
Maleh could not be reached.
According to the lawsuit, consumers spent weeks or months trying to file a claim, as the company’s phone lines either went straight to a full mailbox or were out of service altogether. Some consumers who managed to place claims never heard back from the company, and ultimately paid for the repairs themselves, the complaint says.
At other times, Secure Home Warranty said it couldn’t find a technician and asked customers to pay for repairs out-of-pocket and submit an invoice for reimbursement. The company failed to pay back some consumers, according to the attorney general.
Despite advertising that home inspections were not required, the company routinely denied claims or reduced the payout for failure to provide inspection records, citing fine print, the complaint says. In one case, however, a consumer did submit inspection records but was still denied for failing to provide “comprehensive service records,” even though the contract makes no reference to that language.
Secure Home Warranty eventually closed in November 2017 without addressing hundreds of complaints, the suit says. Maleh formed First Choice Home Warranty a month earlier and charged the credit cards of former Secure Home Warranty customers under the name “Home Warranty,” even though those customers never entered a contract with the new business, according to the lawsuit.
The Attorney General’s Office has received 160 complaints from consumers in Pennsylvania and 31 other states. The firm has been the subject of 437 complaints in the last three years through the Better Business Bureau.
Ashvinder Mehta, of Chester County, paid $975 for a service contract in 2017 and never heard back from Secure Home Warranty after she placed a claim for her washer machine, the attorney general said.
“Secure Home Warranty seemed like a reputable company online that offered a better contract than my existing one, so I switched my home warranty services,” Mehta said in a statement provided by the attorney general. “Everything seemed legitimate with the company until I needed to use them for a broken appliance in my home. I called Secure Home Warranty to get help and never heard from them again."