Can I get a grant or rebate for doing a home energy audit?

August 13, 2011 00:13 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a call from a company that said I could get a $3,000 federal grant if I had them do an energy audit of my home.  They then requested my social security number and bank account information so they could check my credit rating. I got suspicious and hung up. Do you think this was a scam? Are there really grants or rebates available for doing an energy audit of your home?

Consumer Ed says:

You were wise to be suspicious of the caller. Unsolicited calls or emails asking for your personal or financial information are usually attempts at identity theft.  There has also been a scam reported in Florida where con artists posing as utility workers have been going around neighborhoods and calling consumers offering free energy audits. To ensure you’re contacting the actual utility company, you should call the number on your power bill.

There are several legitimate programs that offer Georgia residents rebates or financial assistance with energy audits or energy-efficient home improvements. However, they generally require you to initiate contact with them, not vice versa.  Here are some programs that you may be able to take advantage of:

Weatherization Assistance Program - Low-income homeowners may be eligible for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which provides weatherization services allowing income-eligible households to reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient.  For more information and to apply for Weatherization Assistance, visit www.gefa.org.

Free Online Energy Audit - Georgia Power offers a free online energy audit tool to help residential customers determine where the most energy is consumed in their homes and what they can do to lower their monthly bill.  Go to www.georgiapower.com to access this tool.

Free In-Home Energy Audit - Georgia Power also offers customers a free in-home energy audit. An Energy Expert will visit and visually inspect your home and help show you how much you can save on your energy bill. To schedule a free energy audit, call 1-800-524-2421 ext. 200, or visit www.georgiapower.com.

Zero-Interest Financing for Energy Improvements - The residential energy efficiency financing programs, which are funded through Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allow homeowners to apply for funding to complete a number of energy-efficiency improvement projects, and for the purchase of eligible ENERGY STAR appliances. Financing is available through Oglethorpe Power Corporation, Electric Cities of Georgia, Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia and Estes Heating & Air. Contact your electric and/or gas provider for more information on available energy-efficiency loan programs.

Georgia Power Rebates – Georgia Power customers may qualify for rebates of up to $2,200 on energy-efficient home improvements. To be eligible, you must get an energy assessment by a participating contractor (for a fee), and the improvements must be done by a qualified contractor participating in the Georgia Power Home Energy Improvement Program. Rebates are based on actual energy savings achieved. For more information, visit www.georgiapower.com.

Federal Income Tax Credits - As a homeowner, you may also qualify for federal income tax credits if you purchase certain energy-efficient products or renewable energy systems for your home during 2011. For more information on what products qualify, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website at www.energysavers.gov.

One final note:  If you hire a contractor to make home improvements, ask people you know for names of contractors they would recommend. You can also check their reputation with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).  Ask the contractor for his license number so you can verify that he is licensed with the Secretary of State’s Office. Make sure the contractor provides you with a detailed written contract before any work is begun, and don’t pay for work that is incomplete.

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Disputing Property Taxes

July 1, 2011 21:48 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a letter from a private consultant offering to dispute my property taxes with the county. The value of my house has declined significantly in the last year and it is now worth much less than what the property tax bill shows.  Should I accept this offer? How do I know if it’s legitimate?

Consumer Ed says:

If you believe the board of assessors incorrectly calculated the value of your home, you can appeal the assessed value. You do not need a consultant to assist you. The time within which an appeal must be filed may vary from county to county.

The letter you received may or may not be legitimate. Many legitimate companies are currently sending out letters advertising their services in connection with tax appeals. However, new and different scams are discovered all the time, so be careful and thoroughly research the business or person who sent the letter to you.  For example, in 2010, Oregon property owners were flooded with fraudulent solicitations to send in $189 to get their property taxes lowered. The letters, which were made to look like official government documents, stated that due to the drop in property values, residents needed to file for a reassessment of their property taxes. The letters included a purported adjusted assessment and the amount of projected tax savings resulting from an appeal, provided the property owner signed an authorization and included a check for the company’s fee.  Similar letters were also sent to residents in California in late 2009.  Even though these property tax scams occurred in different states, it is important to be aware of them because this scam could start occurring here in Georgia.

There are various ways to discover whether a business or person is “legitimate”.  If a corporation sent the letter to you, you can look up its name on the Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.ga.gov) to see if it is an actual legal entity.  However, just because the corporation is a legal entity is no guarantee that it employs truthful and fair business practices.  If you think you may be interested in its services, you should ask the business to provide references from past customers and, if the company claims to be a member of any professional organizations, you may want to contact the organizations to see whether the business is in good standing.  You can also visit the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org) to see if anyone has submitted any complaints about the business. 

Two additional things to remember. First, avoid paying money to a business up front. There are many reputable companies who will not charge you in advance. In fact, some companies calculate their fee as a percentage of your first year’s tax savings, while others will bill you on an hourly basis and submit a detailed bill for the actual hours they have worked to pursue the appeal.  Second, never contract with a company that guarantees a tax reduction; no legitimate company would make such a promise.
If you are not confident that the business or person is legitimate, you may prefer to appeal your property taxes yourself.  In fact, even if the letter you received was from a legitimate business, appealing your property taxes yourself could cost substantially less than hiring someone to do it for you and should not take too much of your time. For information on how to appeal a property tax assessment, go to the Georgia Department of Revenue’s website at www.dor.ga.gov.

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Caller ID Spoofing

March 3, 2011 01:18 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a phone call from my gas company about a past due bill. I told them I was current on my account, but they threatened to shut off my service unless I paid the bill immediately by giving them my credit card information.  I was suspicious, but my caller ID indicated that the call was, in fact, from my gas provider. I said I would have to check my records and get back to them. When I called back, they said my account was paid up and that no one from the billing department had called me. What do you make of this?

Consumer Ed says:

You were a victim of “caller ID spoofing”. This is when a scammer accesses software that allows him to disguise his identity and phone number. When the person receives a call from the scammer, a legitimate company name and phone number will be displayed.  For example, a scammer may disguise himself as someone from your bank, auto warranty company, an attorney or law office, a lottery, or a state or federal agency. The scammer usually tries to get the caller to give out credit card, bank account information or a Social Security number over the phone. 

Unfortunately, this means consumers can no longer rely on Caller ID as proof or verification that you are dealing with a trusted source. To protect yourself from scammers using Caller ID spoofing, we suggest the following tips:

  • Be cautious. Do not give out personal information or financial information over the telephone.
  • Verify the identity of the caller:
    • Write down the phone number appearing on the Caller ID, hang up and redial the number to see where the call goes.
    • Call the company's official, published telephone number to verify that they actually called you.
  • Consumers who receive multiple calls from the same number may contact their telephone service provider and request that the number be blocked.
  • File a complaint with the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) or visiting esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm.

 

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