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Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: "Free Solar Panels" Can Cost You Big Time!

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If you want solar panels, be very careful when evaluating installation offers. Con artists use misleading sales tactics and outright lies to trick homeowners out of money and personal information. If you've received an offer for "free solar panels," it's likely a scam.

Here's what you should know. Someone contacts you through email, phone, social media, or even in person, as in many cases reported to BBB Scam Tracker. They are pretending to be a solar company salesperson. The "representative" has a special offer: they can install solar panels on your home for a very low cost – or even free. The amazing deal is only available for a limited time, so you must act now!

From here, the scam can take several turns. In some versions, the scammer is after your personal information. They ask you to fill out forms with your banking details "to see if you qualify." Other times, the "solar representative" claims you need to pay upfront costs, which they promise will be reimbursed by a (non-existent) government program. BBB Scam Tracker has seen numerous reports of this kind of scam.

One homeowner was approached by a door-to-door salesperson "claiming he could get me a new roof plus solar equipment, with a government rebate for 26% off cost, essentially paying for the new roof." After doing their research, the homeowner found that while a government rebate program existed, the salesperson was misrepresenting it to make a sale.

Do your research. Genuine incentive programs and reputable solar energy contractors do exist. Before you accept an unsolicited offer, do some research on solar companies in your area. Investigate each company's reputation and business practices before you consider signing a contract for services. Don't give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Get competing bids. Ask questions about any aspect of a contract or proposal you don't understand. If the company gets upset about your questions, refuses to answer them, or is vague with their answers, consider it a red flag.

Cape Girardeau native Whitney Quick is the Regional Director of Better Business Bureau in Cape Girardeau, MO, and is responsible for outreach efforts in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Quick is a graduate of Cape Girardeau Central High School and Southeast Missouri University where she majored in public relations. Quick enjoys helping educate consumers in the southeast Missouri region by sharing consumer tips with groups and educating them about BBB’s resources.