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Homeowners falling for energy audit scam

December 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
There is a new scam hitting homeowners across the country. If you get an offer for a free or low cost energy audit, you may want to hold off.

Debbie Katt is like many homeowners interested in cutting back on electric bills and making her home more energy efficient. So, when someone appeared at her door offering a free home energy audit, she agreed.

"He presented himself as if he were an official of some sort. He was with the state or he was with the city or he was with the local energy company," said Katt.

But after a quick check of the attic, windows and doors, the so-called auditor turned on the hard sell and told the Katts that they needed to buy a $4,000 solar blanket for the attic. That's when they realized the auditor was really a salesperson.

"I was mad that he misguided us, and I was mad he took all our time like that," Katt said.

Katt was just one victim of what the Consumer Federation of America calls an "emerging energy audit scam."

"The scammers send consumers postcards or make phone calls offering them free energy audits that will save them hundreds of dollars a month on their utility bills," said Susan Grant with the Consumer Federation of America.

Grant says the auditors often imply they're with a government agency or utility company, but that's not the case.

"Their real intent is to get into consumers' homes and sell them things that actually don't save them any money at all," said Grant.

Shoddy, substandard work can also be the result. One homeowner who fell for a free energy audit paid a company to install insulation. Turns out, the contractor was unlicensed and never returned to finished the job.

"We've seen cases where work has not been completed fully or where people were not actually benefiting from any of the savings they were told," said Jason Ohman, a consumer protection investigator.

Phone solicitations for free home energy audits are among the fastest growing do-not-call-list complaints around the country. Katt said "no" to the sales pitch she got, but warns that the person with the pitch can be persistent.

"The formula is that these people get in your house, and once they're in your house, it's hard to get them out of the house," Katt said.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will come to your home and conduct a free legitimate energy survey in your residence. All you need to do is call them to set up an appointment. Also, Southern California Edison offers a free energy survey online. Neither utility will come to your door just to solicit you.


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