Susan Wargo cried as she leafed through paperwork Thursday at her Lady's Island home.
"I was so embarrassed," she said. "I didn't tell anyone."
Two years ago, she bought a water-filtration system from a salesman who told her the water from her faucet was unclean. She said she immediately began having problems with the system -- and then with the financing the salesman's company arranged.
Her $5,000 system will end up costing her more than $9,000 because of the interest rate and fees, she said.
Worried she had been cheated, but ashamed to admit it and scared of damaging her credit by not paying, Wargo at first told no one.
But since Monday, Wargo has been attempting to contact about 100 other Beaufort residents she believes might also be dissatisfied with their purchase -- others who, like her, have liens on their homes by Castle Credit Corp.
Wargo and two other residents said a salesman named Bob Ciano sold them their systems. A man who identified himself as "Bob" answered a call to a number provided by Wargo.
He said the complaints are unfounded.
"Someone is making up a lot of bull," he said.
Pat Esposito, owner of Island Property Management Services, said Ciano works for him and previously worked for A&M Enviro Services, a company that is no longer in business. Both companies sold water-treatment systems.
Esposito said Wargo is "pushing everyone's buttons" with false information.
The Beaufort County Register of Deeds has 98 liens on file by the corporation since 2009, all related to purchases of water filters. Seven additional liens were filed and later terminated. Register of deeds Dale Butts said that is not an unusual number of filings by a company, and it was not a red flag to his office.
Beaufort attorney Jim Moss said he has spoken with several residents who believe they have been cheated.
"It's clear that these people are not playing above board," he said of the company.
Wargo and Tiffany Gomez said Moss is filing a lawsuit on their behalf.
Gomez said she purchased a filtration system in June after being told the water in the area was "absolutely horrible." Gomez said she was charged $4,000 more than she was told it would cost, was not given the chance to examine her paperwork and did not know there would be a lien on her home.
Michael Motyka's filtration system was installed Aug. 6. Like Wargo and Gomez, he responded to an offer for a free jug of Tide, was given a water test and was told the water provided by Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority was not clean, he said.
After talking with Wargo, he asked a local plumber to inspect the system. The plumber said it was not a filtration system, and it appeared to be just a water softener, Motyka said.
Esposito said he is the owner of Island Property Management Services, which is the company that sold Gomez's and Motyka's treatment systems. He said Castle Credit is one of five financing companies he uses and the corporation records phone calls that verify his customers understand their financing, he said.
"There's no ifs, ands or buts about anyone saying they don't understand the contract," he said. "If you didn't read your contract, I can't help that."
Esposito said his company does not use "scare tactics" to sell, and agreed the local water is safe. He also said it is a "falsity to say you only have a softener," because the "multi-stage" systems soften and clean water.
The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority has been contacted by several residents who reported a company selling water-filtration systems told them the authority's water is of poor quality, according to a statement Thursday.
"From what we understand, they are telling people they might need a water filter for their home to make sure their water is safe," authority spokesman Matthew Brady said.
The water meets all U.S Environmental Protection Agency and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control standards, he said.
Customers can install filters or softeners, but those decisions are matters of personal preference because the water is safe for consumption and naturally soft, he said.