Beware of low-cost, free home energy audit pitches

Published On: Nov 23 2012 10:08:40 AM EST
Updated On: Nov 23 2012 10:40:00 PM EST

It's a scam hitting homeowners across the country.  Experts are warning consumers that if they get an offer for a free or low-cost energy audit, to consider holding off.  One of the big concerns is giving the so-called auditor access to your home.

Someone appeared at Debbie Katt's door offering a free home energy audit.  She agreed because she was interested in cutting back on her electric bills and making her home more energy efficient.

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

But after a quick check of the attic, windows and doors, the so-called auditor turned on the hard sell and told the Katt's, "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 the he misguided us and I was mad he took all our time like that," said Katt.

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

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

Grant says the auditors often imply they're with a government agency or utility company.  But Grant says, “Their real intent is to get into consumers homes and sell them things that actually don't save them any money at all.”

And shoddy, substandard work can also be the result.  Investigators say in one case, a owner fell for a free energy audit scam and paid a company to put in insulation.  But, it turns out the contractor was unlicensed and never returned to finish the job.

“We’ve seen cases where work has not been completed fully or where people were not really benefitting from any of the savings they were told,” explained Consumer Protection Investigator Jason Ohman.

Phone solicitations for free home energy audits are among the fastest growing "Do No Call List" complaints around the country.

Katt said no to the sales pitch she got, but warns the person with the pitch can be persistent.

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

It's important to note that many utility companies do offer legitimate free energy audits, but they likely won't cold call or solicit you.  You would need to call your gas or electric company to set it up.

If anyone does come to your door, be sure to ask for identification to see whom he or she actually works for.

More information from the Better Business Bureau on how to deal with a door-to-door salesperson

More information from the Federal Trade Commission on how to cancel a sale

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