So when the doorbell rang at 9 a.m., we were surprised, and also a little annoyed.
Who would come a-callin’ at that early hour?
It was a salesman. Exactly who he worked for was uncertain.
Speaking quickly, he mentioned JCP&L, and talked about government programs that promoted energy efficiency and could save us lots of money.
He was taking appointments, he said, for free energy audits. And pointing down the block, he said he had been scheduling appointments with our neighbors.
With winter coming fast, the idea of saving money on energy bills was an attractive one.
But the gentleman at the door had no identification. There was no marked vehicle parked on the block. When asked for paperwork, he said he had none and was only taking appointments.
“No thanks,” we said, and we turned him away.
The interaction was riddled with more than red flags, but red flags with sparklers and flashing “buyer beware” signs attached.
We reached out to JCP&L to see if it had authorized these free energy audits.
“JCP&L does not do free energy audits,” said Ron Morano, spokesman for First Energy, JCP&L’s parent company. “We always advise that anyone representing JCP&L would have a company identification.”
We next reached out to the Bureau of Public Utilities (BPU), which does offer “New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program,” or NJCEP, which promotes energy efficiency.
It also offers significant financial help available through “Home Performance with ENERGY STAR,” which looks at energy efficient upgrades for your home. Until June 30, 2015, qualifying homeowners can receive up to $5,000 in financial incentives, and possibly qualify for up to $10,000 in zero percent financing to pay for upgrades.
That’s a great deal, but in order for your home to qualify, you’ll need an energy audit by a company that’s qualified to do the work and help you with the rebate paperwork.
“On the residential side of the CEP, contractors `partner’ with our program, i.e. they stay active by ensuring their customers take advantage of rebates,” BPU spokesman Greg Reinert said in an email. “However, we don’t have specific contractors working for the NJCEP; therefore, we do not provide NJCEP I.D.”
He said BPU requires participating contractors to be certified, but that doesn’t mean BPU oversees or regulates them.
You can look up participating contractors on the NJCEP website.
After we explained our experience, Reinert said with as with any individual who solicits door-to-door, the contractors must follow all local municipal rules and regulations.
“Residents should always use caution. Any individual making door-to-door solicitations should have identification or company credentials and materials,” he said.
Even if an individual has materials from a contractor, the resident should call the contractor to confirm the door-to-door salesperson represents the contractor, he said.
“There are scams where people open their doors and contractors say they’re with the utility company,” he said. “If someone doesn’t have credentials or identification or any kind of marketing materials, I’d be highly suspicious. I’d close my door and call the police.”
Reinert said BPU doesn’t offer free energy audits, but some of the BPU-certified companies do. Others charge a $100 to $125 fee that ends up included in the price for work should a homeowner hire the company to perform the audit’s recommendations.
We next checked in with our neighbor — the one the rep pointed to when he was on our doorstep — and she said she was suspicious from the get-go, thinking there were no government programs that could help save her money on energy upgrades.
But she did have a flyer from the rep, with an address and phone number in a town that’s about an hour away from our neighborhood — on a good traffic day.
The company is listed on the BPU site and it has a valid Home Improvement Contractor registration.
We’re not naming the company here because it hasn’t done anything wrong, even if it did leave a bad taste.
But we did reach out, and a rep from the firm said the company goes door-to-door because most homeowners don’t read mailers so they don’t know about these energy programs.
He also said the company doesn’t give paperwork unless the homeowner sets an appointment for the free audit, because when they’ve done it in the past, most homeowners don’t bother to call the company back and they have to knock on doors all over again. And, the company can’t tell homeowners what savings they may qualify for until it performs the audit, he said.
Those are all fair points.
We asked why on the company flyer, it doesn’t even name the BPU program, which we thought might give the company more authenticity. The rep said people don’t read the flyer, but on it there is a link to the company web site, which in turn offers links to the state programs.
So, consumers, you can save money on energy upgrades, and not everyone who knocks on your door is a scammer.
Still, we recommend you fully check out anyone who comes a-callin’. Look them up on the BPU site, make sure they’re properly registered with the state and see if there are complaints against the company with the Division of Consumer Affairs by calling 800-242-5846.
It’s better to be safe — and maybe a little chilly — than sorry.
Staff researcher Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com.