More and more consumers are being targeted by fraudulent solar companies trying to take advantage of the growing market. Putting adequate protections in place at the state and local level can prevent companies from trying to take advantage of consumers who want to install solar on their homes.

Solar energy a growing consumer complaint

Solar energy may be the power source of the future, but it already has become one of the fastest-growing consumer complaints.

Misleading sales tactics about solar energy was flagged as one of the problems to watch in the latest survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

Florida was one of 23 states with consumer protection agencies that participated in a study of the top consumer gripes in 2016.

As the solar power industry grows, so could consumer problems.

“Solar energy is good for the environment and for consumers’ pocketbooks, but there are starting to be complaints concerning misleading sales practices, confusing contracts and shoddy installation” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at CFA. “Consumers should check out the company and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement before they sign on the dotted line for solar contracts.”

The most common complaints received by the agencies dealt with autos, on such issues as misrepresentations in advertising or sales, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.

Ranked second was shoddy home construction and improvement, including contractors who failed to start or complete a project.

Consumers also complained about utilities, such as installation issues, service problems and billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, internet, electric and gas services.

“The 39 state and local consumer protection agencies in the survey received more than 203,284 complaints last year and saved or recovered $161.4 million through mediation and other actions,” the report said. “This does not include the money that people avoided losing because of their advice or the savings to businesses and court systems that resulted from their resolving complaints informally.”

Consumers’ other top complaints involved false advertising by retailers, credit disputes including mortgage fraud, misleading claims about health products and services, landlord/tenant disputes, problems with household goods, deceptive Internet sales and misrepresentations by home solicitors.

The three fastest-growing complaints were fraud, cable, phone and internet services, and health services.

“Fraud is a perennial problem, but different types of scams rise and fall in popularity,” the study said. “Apartment rental scams, bogus offers of employment, false promises of loans, phony government grants, bogus health cures, and imposters posing as local officials were cited as particularly fast-growing last year.”

New problems in 2016 that cost consumers money included passport services that accepted funding then disappeared, web sites that post mugshots of arrested people and then charge a fee to remove them, crowdfunding investments that didn’t pan out, identity thieves who gave low-income and homeless people free phones to collect their personal information, and mortgage companies withholding insurance funds from flood victims.