Homeowners looking to install solar panels or carry out other energy improvement works on their properties have been warned to be on their guard against scams.
The advice came from the government’s consumer protection and anti-fraud team, the Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF).
Beware ‘professionals with few scruples’
The force issued a detailed warning about solar panel installers in 2018 but repeated and enlarged the scope this summer to cover other energy renovations.
“The energy renovation sector is in constant evolution and generates a large number of complaints from consumers who have been tricked or led down wrong paths by professionals with few scruples,” the DGCCRF warned.
“They may sell installations or equipment that do not work properly or produce the promised benefits, whether relating to the production of electricity or energy savings.
“This can cause financial problems for people, especially when a consumer credit loan has been taken out on the basis of the promises.”
The DGCCRF said other complaints it had received involved partially completed or badly done work, risking safety and obliging homeowners to get the project finished by someone else at their own expense.
Do not respond to telemarketing calls
Its advice on how to avoid becoming a target for crooks includes never responding to telephone marketing in the renovation or energy sectors.
The government recently introduced stricter controls on telemarketing after problems highlighted by the DGCCRF.
As of March, cold callers can only call Monday to Friday 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-20:00, and a maximum of four times per month.
Calling at any other time, including weekends and bank holidays, is banned.
However, as anyone with a landline or compromised mobile phone number will know, this has not stopped calls from people promising great deals on energy projects.
Do not give out your telephone number
The DGCCRF recommends that homeowners never give their telephone number when requested to do so on websites, nor tell anyone else it unless strictly necessary.
Every telephone number a firm has is worth money – an estimate from the US a couple of years ago put that value at $80 – and they are frequently sold to marketing firms.
With even La Poste asking for phone/email details when you post a letter, it can sometimes be awkward not to give the information, but it is better to refuse unless there is a specific reason, the DGCCRF said.
Other tips include being wary of responding to emails or calls claiming to be from government bodies such as the Environment Ministry, the mairie, or Ademe, the French Agency for Ecological Transition.
The DGCCRF points out that they seldom contact individuals.
Check their claims are true
It recommends that if a quote includes a deduction for energy grants, check yourself that the grants are available.
Recent changes to the MaPrimeRénov’ scheme, for example, mean that grants are no longer available for someone spending €2,200 to change a single-glazed double door to a double-glazed alternative. Previously, a 30% grant was offered.
Do your own calculations
Specifically relating to solar panels, the DGCCRF’s advice is to make sure that the installer visits your property before offering a quotation, so they can be sure the installation will get the best orientation for the sun.
It also advises that homeowners do their own calculations, using figures in the quotation, to ensure estimates for the amount of electricity that will be produced, and hence future savings, are realistic.
Many solar panel crooks pretend to be from the utility companies Engie or EDF, and can trick homeowners into signing purchase order contracts by using paperwork that looks like it is simply an agreement for an evaluation to take place.