The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that a new scam uses homeowners' energy bills to target them, and falling for this trick is dangerous for your wallet.
Home Energy Audit Scam: How It Works
You may be contacted by phone, text message or email, or someone might even show up at your door posing as a utility company representative or an employee with the energy division of your local government.
They tell you that they’re offering free home energy audits and that you can save money on your utility bills by using the discounts and services they offer or by installing energy-efficient devices in your home.
They may ask to tour your home to perform an inspection. Often, they are wearing an official-looking uniform and may even present identification.
When these scammers use the phone, the number they use might look like it is from an actual government agency or utility company. They use what’s called “spoofing,” which causes your caller ID to display a phone number or other information that appears legitimate. You could also receive an official-looking email message with a link to schedule a free audit.
Obviously, letting these people into your home could put you at risk for burglary or even home invasion.
Even if you never meet the scammer in person, paying for these (fake) goods and services gives the criminals access to your payment information and other personal details, which can lead to financial loss and identity theft.
How To Protect Yourself From Home Energy Scams
Unfortunately, we're likely to see more home energy scams as temperatures and our energy bills get higher. And they may not all look like this energy audit scam. USA Today reports an increase in utility shut-off scams. With this scam, people call your phone and threaten to shut off your utilities unless you send them a payment immediately.
No matter which scam finds its way to your phone or doorstep, there are several things you can do to protect yourself.
Say "Thank you" and hang up. No matter what the caller or visitor says, stop the conversation and call your utility company directly. The company can confirm if this offer is legitimate or a scam.
Never use payment apps or gift cards. If you're being asked to pay with a gift card, it is almost always a scam. Similarly, if you are being asked to use Zelle to pay for an energy audit or you're being threatened with a utility shut-off, it's likely a scam. Zelle is more dangerous than other payment apps because of the way it is integrated with your bank account, according to money expert Clark Howard.
Do not answer unknown phone calls or text messages. This is one of the easiest ways to avoid scams. If you do not recognize a phone number, don't answer the call. If they need to speak with you, they can leave a voicemail.
If you have been a victim of a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also call your local police department and file a report.