Seven Common Green Scam Types and Seven Tips on Avoiding Them

From bogus solar power contractors to misleading claims for consumer products, green scam artists are masters of deception: Internet Scambusters #370

Showing concern for the environment and caring about energy
conservation will likely fuel a big growth in green scams
during the next few years.

Since crooks and unscrupulous consumer product manufacturers
don’t care a jot about these things, we owe it to future
generations — and Planet Earth — to put a stop to their game.

In this issue, we look at seven of the most common green scam
types and some ideas on how to avoid them.

This week’s issue is especially important to us since we
believe renewable energy is important and personally installed
a solar electric (photovoltaic) system last month. Our system
is working as promised, should pay for itself in under 5
years, and was installed by an excellent company who delivered
what they said. We want to help ensure that people who make
the effort to “go green” don’t get scammed.

First, we recommend you check out the most popular articles
from our other sites during the past week:

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On to today’s main topic…

Seven Common Green Scam Types and Seven Tips on Avoiding Them

In the few months since we last reported on the subject of
green scams, a number of recent high profile incidents and
actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have put the
issue back in the spotlight. Read href="">Misinformation and
Good Intentions Drive Green Scams and Energy Fraud.

Two issues in particular are causing concern — abuse of
so-called “green building” and equipment programs and spurious
claims about the green credentials of consumer products.

Bogus green investment schemes, which we covered in our
earlier issue, have also seen an uptick.

Let’s take a closer look at the first of this type of green
scam — those relating to the use of healthier and more
resource-efficient techniques and materials in building
construction and renovation, and in the products we put in

Green Building and Home Appliance Incentive Scams

The availability of grants and other incentives to encourage
people to go green in their homes has combined with general
consumer enthusiasm for energy-conscious living to turn this
area into a very attractive target for scammers.

Recent incidents have highlighted three types of green scams
in this category:

  1. Failure to deliver. This green scam usually applies to the
    planned installation of solar power systems in homes. Put
    simply, you pay (full cost or deposit) to have solar panels
    installed in your home and they never arrive. Neither does the
    contractor — he disappears.

    Knowing solar panels are regarded as expensive by most people,
    and since they have a multi-year payback period, bogus
    contractors offer attractive prices and phony warranties to
    lure victims into their traps.

    The crime is more common than you might think — especially
    with the huge growth in demand for solar energy of the past
    couple of years; several phony contractors have been fined or
    jailed recently.

    Other times, contractors install products — especially
    windows — that simply don’t meet the claimed environmental

  2. The tax credit and grants green scam. It’s true that you
    can get federal and tax credits and, in some cases, even cash
    grants, for green building, installing solar energy systems or
    using energy efficient products like modern water heaters and
    furnaces, and techniques like insulating your home.

    In some states, residents may be entitled to significant
    financial support for building a green home from scratch. But
    entitlements vary by state and the claims process can be a bit
    of a maze.

    Knowing this, it’s easy for high-pressure sales people to
    bamboozle you by dishonestly claiming you’ll get a tax credit
    or grant if you buy their product.

    And even if you are entitled, some unscrupulous characters
    will make a charge for filling in the necessary paperwork,
    though its easy to do it yourself.

    Our favorite site for reliable information is href="" target="_blank">

    Bogus emails and letters seeming to come from government
    departments also offer non-existent refunds related to green
    appliances and construction projects. They’re really just
    phishing for personal information, attempting to install
    malware on your PC or even advance fee frauds in which you’re
    asked to pay an upfront “processing fee.”

  3. Unlocking your green door. Crooks who want to get into your
    house may use a green scam to convince you to let them in.

    They usually claim to have a device to fit that will save
    power or water, or improve the quality of the supply. They may
    even say they’re from the local utility company, and, in some
    cases they might be cheeky enough to make an appointment in

    When they get in, one of two things will happen — they’ll
    steal things from your home and/or they’ll install something
    that costs a lot of money and doesn’t do what they say it will do.

    Recent examples include installing water purification systems
    that victims simply didn’t need.

The Big Greenwashing Game

Green scams that involve inaccurate or misleading claims about
products or services have earned themselves their own label —

The con comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and includes:

  1. Simply lying about the content or eco-friendliness of the
    product. A firm was recently taken to task for labeling its
    garments as made from “100% bamboo fibers” when they weren’t.
    This type of green scam also includes fake certification from
    supposed environmental monitoring organizations. Another
    variation is the use of phony testimonials and endorsements for
    the “greenness” of a product.

  2. Using words like “eco,” “green” and “natural” to imply a
    product’s green credentials. In particular, using words like
    “greener” or “more eco friendly” are meaningless if all they
    really mean is that it’s not quite as harmful as it used to be!

    In the same way, firms may use technical jargon to try to
    impress you, or their logos may contain images of animals or
    nature-type icons to suggest they’re green.

  3. Concealing the “trade-off.” This refers to the use of
    environmentally-damaging techniques to produce green products.
    For example, some paper-recycling processes may use high
    amounts of energy or harmful bleaches and there’s no legal
    requirement for producers to explain this.

  4. Irrelevance. Some manufacturers imply they’re
    environmentally conscientious by boasting about excluding
    certain chemicals — like CFCs — from their products, when
    these chemicals are illegal anyway and couldn’t be used.

Some Simple Steps to Help You Avoid the Green Scam

Here are a few things you can do to spot the sort of green
scams outlined in this issue:

  • Always get multiple bids for construction projects and solar
    panel installation — then check out the contractors with your
    local and state licensing bodies. Ask for references, then
    check them very carefully. You’ll be amazed at what you can
    learn. The two best bids we got when we installed our
    photovoltaic system differed by 37% for the same system!

  • Check your grant and tax credit entitlements with your state
    consumer organization — many of them maintain online
    databases of what’s available — and by visiting official
    government sites. Another good site besides is
    the target="_blank">greenbuilding section of

  • To check claimed energy-efficiency of appliances, visit

  • Check credentials of door-steppers offering to sell or
    install green equipment in your home and never buy anything
    from them on the spur of the moment. Thoroughly investigate
    their claims.

  • Be skeptical about green credentials; check content labels.
    Look for evidence of independent testing and certification.
    Remember that words like “natural” can refer to anything that
    occurs, well, naturally, in the environment — even poisons!

  • Consumer products that contain chemicals (bleaches for
    example) must file what is known as Material Safety Data
    Sheets (MSDS) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
    These are usually available online.

  • If you want to make a financial investment in companies that
    create products that seem to benefit the environment, don’t be
    drawn into schemes that promise unrealistic terms or unproven
    technology. Instead, do your research and consider investing
    in mutual funds or other types of companies specializing in
    green products and services.

Notwithstanding the current controversy about the extent of
global warming, the drive to go green, to preserve resources
for future generations, to produce cleaner power and to take
greater responsibility in our roles as custodians of the
Earth, will only intensify in the coming years.

We can expect the number and variety of green scams to grow
alongside. The more we understand what it really means to be
green and the more trouble we take to check out dubious
claims, the better armed we will be to resist them.

Time to close — we’re off to take a walk. See you next week.