Solar panel scammers chase record levels of activity: Internet Scambusters #1,045
With rising energy costs and falling prices of equipment, who wouldn't see the appeal of solar panels on their home?
But ignorance and hasty decisions can lead would-be buyers into falling victim to lies, misleading information, and other scams.
In this week's issue, we'll explain the most common solar scams and the steps you can take to protect yourself.
Let's get started…
Thinking Of Going Solar? Watch Out For These Scams
Solar panel installations look like they're hitting a record in the US this year and next. And so does the level of solar scams.
If you're in the market for this advanced technology for your home, watch out! There are plenty of legitimate solar firms across our nation, but there are also lots of crooks. We can help you spot them before you get burnt.
Undoubtedly, solar power - tapping energy directly from sunlight - is a fantastic renewable energy source.
In fact, enough sunlight hits the earth's surface every couple of hours to power all our energy needs for an entire year. It's capturing it that's the challenge. But with rising fossil fuel costs, advances in panel technology and their falling prices, installations are surging.
Possibly, twice as many people will have installed panels this year compared with 2021. And the number is expected to continue growing in 2023, which is why scammers are licking their lips.
The Most Common Solar Panel Scams
Con artists take advantage of the fact that most of us know little about solar technology, like how it works, how much it costs, and how much a householder might save. They target potential victims through door-to-door canvassing, emails, telesales, and online ads, especially on social media.
Some solar scammers pull off the simplest tricks of all by overcharging or installing poor quality products. But the most common tricks use exaggerations and lies. Well, what else would you expect from scammers!? For example:
- The system will be free.
- There are no upfront costs, or they'll be refunded.
- Misleading information about federal and state financial assistance and tax credits.
- Wild claims about the savings you'll make and the amount of time it'll take to recoup your investment.
- Time is tight. Scammers will suggest a special deal or aid program is about to expire so you must act now.
- Other high-pressure sales tactics aimed at getting you to sign up.
- Claims they've installed their systems on neighboring homes.
- Suggesting their system is the only one allowed by law or qualifying for financial incentives.
- Fake statistics suggesting a huge rise in utility prices is on the way.
- Imposters claiming to be from your state or utility provider or working in partnership with them.
Crooks may also offer a bid price without even doing an inspection, offer you a price that's too good to be true, and promise they can arrange special low-cost financing. All red flags.
A common trick is to get you to fill in a form "to see if you qualify." Although this is also an approach used by legitimate firms, scammers use these forms to steal information about you. In some cases, they're not even solar panel providers (though they may claim to be). Instead, they want to sell on your information as leads, sign you up for a loan, or even for identity theft.
A Note About Leasing
In addition to buying a solar panel system, you may also be able to lease one. A scammer is unlikely to tell you how this works and mislead you into thinking you got a good deal.
There are two types:
- A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The solar firm installs and maintains the panels and charges you for the electricity it produces, usually less than a utility company would charge.
- A solar lease. The firm installs the panels and you pay them a monthly fee. It's like a rental program.
Scammers may not explain that you don't own the panels and therefore that they won't add any value to your home. There may also be hidden extra fees and you likely won't qualify for any financial incentive programs.
Protect Yourself From Solar Scams
The most effective way of avoiding solar scams is to educate yourself and do your research first. That means gaining a basic understanding of the technology; knowing the different types of systems; finding out average costs; and checking out the reputation, licensing, and insurance of any firm you're thinking of doing business with.
There's plenty of research info online. The average price for a single home installation, for example, is somewhere between $12,000 and $25,000, but you can find the number for your state and lots of other information at Solar Reviews, an independent research site: How Much Will Solar Panels Cost to Install on Your Home in 2022?
Another useful source of information and guidance is Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit set up by system owners to campaign for fair treatment and energy prices.
Other safeguards include:
- Getting multiple bids and comparing them side by side.
- Asking for references from satisfied customers.
- Don't be pressured into making an instant decision, no matter what the salesperson says.
- Make sure you get a contract and read it carefully and completely before signing.
- Don't sign until you have a firm quote with a cost breakdown.
- Ask plenty of questions to test knowledge. If they don't know, refuse to tell you or get angry, these are red flags.
- Generally, beware of unsolicited sales approaches and check the credentials of any claimed salesperson.
It's important to bear in mind that some of the very same lines that scammers use also apply to legitimate companies. For example, there may well be good financial programs and low/no upfront costs in your area. That's why it's important to do your research in advance.
This Week's Scam Alerts
AnyDesk Trick: Thousands of us receive fake messages every day pretending to come from online retailers alerting us to account problems or orders we didn't place. There's usually a contact number which, if you call, connects you with a scammer who will try to get you to install an app called AnyDesk. This is a perfectly legitimate app enabling PCs and phones to be accessed remotely. You can guess the rest. Unless you want someone elsewhere to be able to access your devices, don't download and install it.
You Didn't Win: One of the longest running sweepstake scams using the legitimate name of Publishers Clearing House (PCH) has suddenly reappeared, big time. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reports a 240 percent increase in September alone. The tricksters tell victims they've won but need to pay to collect winnings and provide bank account and Social Security details. The real PCH doesn't request any of this. You didn't win; make sure you don't lose.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.