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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010

Beware of solar energy installation scams

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The slow-burning popularity of solar energy has given rise to a hot new scam where bogus outfits promise the installation of free home solar systems. But the real costs associated with the installation wind up amounting to thousands of dollars for unsuspecting customers.

The Orlando Sentinel reports Florida regulators are getting hundreds of complaints from homeowners who were talked into setting up installation of the supposedly free systems by telemarketers.

The crooks use the promise of tax credits for energy efficiency to convince people that the system will be completely free. After installation, the duped homeowners then sign a contract that states the installation and equipment is being billed at a 90-day interest free rate. Three months later, the real bill comes with, get this, interest rates of up to 20 and 30 percent!

Remember, solar energy can be a good choice at your house depending on a number of factors. There are a lot of of legit businesses out there selling systems who would never lie to you about the up-front costs. But this new rash of rip-offs is likely to have a chilling effect across the industry for the time being.

As you probably know, there's no free lunch. There is a subsidized lunch because of the tax credits, but not a free lunch. What a salesperson says means nothing. The only thing that matters is what is says on the contract that you sign.
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