Energy-saving scam hits Valley and nation

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

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," Katt said. "He was with the state, he was with the city, he was with the local energy company."

But after a quick check of the attic, windows and doors, the so-called "auditor" turned on the hard sell and told the Katts 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 of the Consumer Federation of America.

Grant said the auditors often imply they're with a government agency or utility company.

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

And shoddy, substandard work can also be the result. Pictures were taken inside a home where investigators say the owner fell for a free energy scam and paid a company to put in insulation.

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 benefiting from any of the savings they were told," Consumer Protection Investigator Jason Ohman said.  

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 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," Katt said.

Making your home more energy efficient is a good idea, but don't do it just because a salesman shows up at your door unannounced or you get a phone call.