Solar Company Fined For Fake Reviews

Solar company fined for fake testimonials

A solar installation company has been whacked with a fine of $6,000 for publishing fake testimonials on its website.

At Perth Magistrates Court last Friday, Suntech Solar Pty Ltd trading as Ausuntech Energy pleaded guilty to all charges associated with eight breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The prosecution was carried out by Consumer Protection, an agency of the Government of Western Australia.

The company, which operates across Australia and has an office in the Perth suburb of Canning Vale, copied eight testimonials from the websites of other solar or electrical businesses – including SolarQuotes – to the Ausuntech Energy website. According to Consumer Protection, the texts were edited so the reviews referred to Suntech Solar, and the original reviewers’ names and locations were changed. The fake reviews were available online for more than two years.

With consumers increasingly relying on customer testimonials when making a purchase decision, fake reviews are a scourge.

“Fictitious testimonials are not only illegal, they diminish the trust and good faith between traders and consumers, particularly when the reviews are lifted directly from competitors’ websites,” said Commissioner for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe. “This case should remind all businesses of their obligations to understand and comply with relevant laws.”

S 29(1)(e) and (f) of the Australian Consumer Law state:

 A person must not, in trade or commerce, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services:

(e)  make a false or misleading representation that purports to be a testimonial by any person relating to goods or services; or

(f)  make a false or misleading representation concerning:

 (i)  a testimonial by any person; or

 (ii)  a representation that purports to be such a testimonial relating to goods or services;

The ACL applies across Australia and to all Australian businesses.

Approved Solar Retailer Status Suspension

This wasn’t the first trouble Ausuntech Energy found itself in over the fake reviews.

In May last year, Ausuntech Energy were suspended from the Clean Energy Council’s Approved Solar Retailer Scheme for “Providing false testimonials on website relating to the company”. The suspension was lifted in early July 2019 after the company satisfied the CEC’s requirements for reinstatement. The suspension entry can be found on the CEC’s compliance activity page.

Just in relation to online reviews generally, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published this guide for businesses.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. So, is the CEC going to impose a ban on the company AND each of its owners/directors, for at least five years, or, is the CEC going to do a Dick Emery thing; Ooh you are awful, but I like you”?

    And, is the ASIC going to deregister the company, and ban its owners/directors, from both being directors of companies, and, being any part of a registered business, or, is fraud by companies, officially regarded as okay?

    And, is the ACCC going to prosecute the company and its directors/owners, under the Trade Practises Act, for unconscionable conduct?


  2. CEC Approved Solar Retailer
    “Companies that are willing and able to stick like glue to a strict code of conduct and pay the required fees can become a Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer. This is very different from an accredited installer / member. If you use a CEC approved retailer for you solar installation you can be almost completely sure they will do an excellent job. If they don’t do a good job and the CEC agrees that they have breached the approved retailer code of conduct, they can and will lose their status as an approved retailer.” – July 4, 2017 by Ronald Brakels

    Ausuntech-Energy-Approved-Solar-Retailer-Certificate.pdf

    Clean Energy Council Member
    Energy Storage Council Member
    Australian Solar Council Member
    Smart Energy Council Member
    National Electrical and Communications Association Member

    https://ausuntechenergy.com/

    Apparently, CEC Solar Retailer accreditation has as much value as used toilet paper, as does membership of each of the above organisations, when knowingly given to a known law-breaking organisation.

    Australia – where being a known law-breaking organisation is okay if you are a registered company with an ABN and CEC accreditation.

    • Bret,

      The post you quote is old. Back then the fledgling ASR scheme was looking very promising and the small number of ASRs were all excellent. Unfortunately, it has since gone down the toilet as the CEC worked with some state governments to make it de facto mandatory. Now there are some terrible companies in the scheme and as a filter, it is practically useless.

      I’ve added a note to Ronald’s post to warn consumers.

      Finn

      • Hello, Finn.

        The context of my citing that quote, is that what I posted, above my comments in that post, was, all, as published on the offender’s web site home page (maybe, you want to view that web page, to see how they represent everything?).

        My comments that I included in that post, were not meant as an attack on Ronald or your web site, and I apologise if that is the way that that post is taken.

        The content of my post, should be read in the context of “This is what the offender has published on its web site (down to the URL for the offender’s web site home page)”, and, then, after the URL of the offender’s web site home page, “and this is what I think of what the offender has published on the offender’s web site”.

  3. It is interesting to note that the offence was regarded as trivial and of no consequence by the magistrate – the fraud operated “for more than two years”, and, in that time, if they had sold and installed only one $6,000 system, I doubt that they will have kept operating.

    So, obviously, the magistrate did do the Dick Emery thing.

    We have to wonder how many millions of dollars they made, for their $6,000 infinitesimal penalty.

  4. A bunch of their Google reviews are also copy / pasted fakes. And they haven’t been removed. Still there boosting their fake star rating.

  5. Just for reference, Austech had their status as an ASR cancelled as a consequence of the audit by the CEC, although they were re-instated previously when they did lift their game. As per the website at this time ” Status as Approved Solar Retailer (is) cancelled.” – not suspended, cancelled.

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