Scam alert for householders

Householders are being warned to watch out for scammers cold calling purporting to sell green products, or even offering them for free thanks to “rebates” in an effort to elicit funds or individuals’ bank account details.

The warning comes after earlier this month residents in northern Victoria received phone calls offering free solar panels thanks to their homes supposedly being rezoned by the council.

The calls, which appeared to listeners as though they were backed by the local council and the state government, contained automated messages that asked receivers to dial certain numbers to move to the next stage.

The pre-recorded message also claimed consumers would save up to $1500 a year in electricity costs, and then asked for their bank account or credit card details.

Rural City of Wangaratta Mayor Cr Anthony Griffiths has warned residents in other areas of Australia to be on the lookout for similar phone calls.

“The advice from the other relevant government departments seemed to be that there had been reports of it in other areas, they didn’t actually outline where, but it didn’t seem that we were an isolated case,” he says.

Griffiths became aware of the scam after ratepayers began calling asking if their homes had been rezoned.

“People were saying ‘well hang on, how can we be rezoned, we haven’t had any notification?'” he says.

“There was a good reason they hadn’t had any notification, it was completely bogus.”

Griffiths thinks his area may have been targeted as seven local councils in the region have bandied together in a group-buying exercise for solar panels to offer ratepayers discounts.

“[Perhaps] the scam decided to piggyback on that publicity, that’s the main reason we can focus on,” Griffiths says.

Although he is not aware of anyone being taken in by the fraudsters, Griffiths says there’s still reports of scattered cases of the phone calls coming through.

A Victorian Government spokesman says there is no “widespread problem”, however, admits it is hard to know if anyone has been conned by the scam.

“It’s often the case in these incidents that people are embarrassed to come forward if they’ve lost money to scams, that’s generally the case across the board with scams, so there is in fact, we believe, significant underreporting of this sort of thing,” the spokesman says.

“There’s no epidemic of it but that doesn’t mean it’s not occurring elsewhere and our Consumer Affairs people are keeping a very close eye on it.

“Wherever there’s new technology and claimed cost savings, there are also swindlers out to make a quick buck. So with things like renewable energy, solar panels, water efficiency and so forth, there are, in all those areas … instances of people trying to scam [others].”

For ways to spot a scam and avoid it, see SCAMwatch, a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

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