How To Deal With Solar And Battery Telemarketer Pests

solar telemarketing phone rage

Sick of unwanted solar phone calls? Then read our handy guide to dealing with this scourge of modern Australia.

Have you ever settled down to enjoy a particularly intense episode of My Little Pony1 when you were rudely interrupted by a cold-hearted cold caller trying to sell you a potentially shoddy and possibly overpriced solar power system?  If so, you are not alone.  Lots of grown men watch My Little Pony.  Also, plenty of people get called by dodgy solar marketers.

Solar telemarketers have managed to become real pests.  And I’m not just talking about them performing acts that are annoying but legal, like coitus with my first wife.  It’s worse than that as many have engaged in illegal activities such as contacting those on the Do Not Call Register or straight out scamming people.  So far this year the Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA, has received 3,000 complaints about solar cold callers out of a total of 40,000 complaints.  That makes them Australia’s number one group for annoying the crap out of people over the phone.

Unfortunately, with the South Australian battery subsidy about to get underway, the Victorian solar subsidy now in place, and potentially a Victorian battery subsidy starting next year, the number of cold callers flogging solar and/or battery systems seems likely to increase.

To help people cope with solar cold callers frigid phoning them, in this article I’ll cover:

  • Why there is no point in buying solar power from a telemarketer.
  • What to do if one does call you.  Which is usually to hang up.
  • The kind of fines a company can receive if they call people on the Do Not Call Register or at the wrong time.
  • How to put your phone numbers on the Do Not Call Register if they’re not already there.
  • How to stop calls from organizations that aren’t affected by the Do Not Call Register.
  • How to lodge a complaint.
  • Various scams dodgy companies may try if they can get you to stay on the line or agree to meet a salesperson.
  • How to gather information on dodgy solar callers if you are so inclined.

My goal is to help prevent you being ripped off by cold calling companies that install shoddy or overpriced solar systems or batteries and stop scammers who engage in outright fraud2.  I hope that after reading this article you’ll lose any urge you may have had to train a pony to pummel your telephone with its hoof.

I Wouldn’t Buy Solar Or Batteries From A Cold Caller

My advice is to never buy solar or batteries from a company that cold calls.  I’m not saying it’s impossible for a quality installer to contact you, but the odds are against it and I don’t recommend going against the odds when your money and possibly safety are on the line.

It’s a simple matter of probability.  If you pick a solar company randomly out of the phone book chances are you won’t get a scoundrel.  But if you go with someone who rings you up out of the blue you probably will.  The reason the phone lines are rotten with reprobates is because they are looking for people who don’t know much about solar power or what it currently costs and want to get a salesperson — who is almost invariably on a commission — to their place and seal the deal before they do any research.

The Do Not Call Register

Fortunately we have the Do Not Call Register in Australia.  Once you register your numbers it becomes illegal for a solar or any marketer to call you at any time unless they have your consent.  The penalties for breaking the law are large.  If a telemarketer contacts one person on the Do Not Call Register the fine starts at $4,100.  If a call centre doesn’t take precautions they can rack up millions of dollars in fines.  But they top out at a maximum of $2.5 million a day so if you can make more money than that by interrupting people while they’re watching My Little Pony you’ll be laughing.

It’s very easy to get on the Do Not Call Register.  All you have to do is visit this page and enter your name, email, and the phone numbers you want on the register.  Unfortunately, you can only enter numbers that aren’t primarily used for business.  (My sister gets around this by making sure she wastes a lot of time talking to her friends on her work phone.)  Then after 30 days any telemarketer who calls you on that number without your consent can be fined big time.

You can still be contacted by charities, people doing honest research, and politicians.  So if you get called by a politician doing research for a charity there’s not much you can do about it.  Besides telling him to piss off.  Or, perhaps more constructively, you can just tell them not to call back.  If someone calls me asking for money3 or votes or money votes I just politely say, “Remove my number from your list and never call me again.”  You may think it would be difficult to say that sentence politely, but I have a very charming voice.  It seems to work because so far none of them have ever called back.

Giving And Removing Consent To Call

If your number is on the Do Not Call Register businesses can still contact you if they have your consent.  This consent can be express or inferred.  Examples of express consent are:

  • Saying, “Call me!” to a salesperson.  If the only reason you said that was because you thought the salesperson was interested in having a sexy time with you, then you have fallen for the oldest trick in the book.  (A very old and very sticky book).
  • Giving a business your phone number.
  • Ticking a box on a form saying they can contact you.  But note that failing to tick a box saying they can’t contact you is not giving consent.

Express consent requires you to actively indicate it is okay to call you and it automatically ends after 3 months.  You can end it any time before that by simply telling the business not to call you.

Inferred consent exists when a company has a relationship with you that could lead them to reasonably conclude you would be interested in hearing from them.  For example, if you are a member of a pony club they could infer they have consent to contact you about special offers they have on genetically engineered singing horses.

Permitted Contact Times

If you or are not on the Do Not Call Register, you can only be cold called at specific times:

  • 9:00am to 8:00pm weekdays
  • 9:00am to 5:00pm Saturdays
  • Never on a Sunday or public holiday

Identification And Responsibility

When cold callers contact you they must give identifying information.  Since most are from call centres either in Australia or overseas, the caller must give you the name of their employer and the name of the company that paid the telemarketing call centre to bug you in the middle of My Little Pony.  Because it’s difficult to fine a call centre in India, the Australian company paying them is responsible for the caller’s behaviour.  The Australian company has to pay any fines for breaking the rules.  Unfortunately, when a telemarketer that is really dodgy calls you, they are unlikely to give accurate identifying information.

Lodging A Complaint

If you receive a marketing call outside of the permitted times or — for those on the Do Not Call Register — receive a call at all without having given express permission or having an existing relationship with the caller, then you can lodge a complaint by going to this page.  You can also do this if they did not properly identify themselves or otherwise failed to meet the Industry Standard.  Of course, if they didn’t give proper identifying information it may not be easy for the ACMA to find the responsible party.

Examples Of Dodgy Dealings

I’ve never had a solar company call me to try to flog me stuff over the phone.  I’m a little disappointed by this since I specifically stayed off the Do Not Call Register so I’d have the chance to grill them and see what kind of companies make cold calls.  But friends and relatives have been called by solar telemarketers and I’ve heard plenty of complaints, so I have good idea of the kinds of things some of the dodgier companies get up to.  Misleading practices that may be performed over the phone or after they convince you to let a salesperson visit are:

  • This Is Canberra Calling: A dodgy telemarketer will say they are calling from Canberra to suggest they are with a Government department.
  • You’ve Hit The Solar Jackpot:   They’ll create the impression that you’re very lucky to qualify for the solar rebate4 when actually all you need to get the STCs that lower the price of solar is to own a roof and have a pulse.  And having a pulse is optional as technically it could be paid for by your estate.
  • Act Now Before It’s Too Late:  They may suggest the “solar rebate” is about to end or otherwise try to convince you speed is of the essence.  They are trying to stampede you into buying before you have time to do research.
  • Say Yes Three Times:  A common sales technique is to get you to say yes to one or two minor requests so you’ll be more likely to say yes to buying a solar power system.
  • The Obligation Game:  They may give you something to make you feel obligated to buy from them.  What they give you will of course be worthless, such as 10% off a system that already costs twice as much as it should or an extended warranty they have no intention of honoring.
  • Price Inversely Proportional To Knowledge:  They will gauge how much you know about solar power and how much it should cost. The less you know the higher the price will be.
  • Disappearing Deposit:  This one goes beyond shoddy and directly to straight out fraud.  They convince you to pay a deposit on a solar power system and then you never hear from them again.

A 10 Day Cooling Off Period

Whenever someone sells you something over the phone or a salesperson comes to your home, if the price is more than $100 you get a 10 work day cooling off period where you can change your mind without penalty.  If you let them know you are not interested within two weeks they must return any payment or deposit they may have received from you.  It doesn’t matter what you may have signed or agreed to or what work has already been done.  They are also required to tell you that this cooling off period exists.

Telephone Vigilantism

If you get a cold caller who tries to sell you solar or batteries, my general advice is to just hang up.  If you are on the no call list or the telemarketer calls outside of permitted hours you can lodge a complaint with the ACMA.  But I know this isn’t going to be enough for some of you and if a telemarketer breaks the rules you’re going to want to be goddamn Batman.

If a solar installer cold calls you and follows the industry standard as they are required to then they’ll have given you enough information to identify the company, which will allow you to lodge a formal complaint online.  But if they are really shoddy they aren’t going to give you enough information to do that.  In this case you can string them along, get them to send a sales person around to your place, and then when you’ve found out who they are and have their contact details you can report them.

I do not recommend most people try this.  It’s only for those determined to do something about shonks who have already broken the rules by failing to clearly and accurately identify themselves.  Definitely do not do this unless you are absolutely certain you are immune to their sales tactics, otherwise you might start intending to complain about them but end up paying $16,000 for a $5,000 solar system.

I joked about wanting to be Batman but this is not vigilantism.  This is merely gathering information to make an accurate complaint.  Do not beat up the salesperson.  You are not Liam Neeson in the movie Taken.  Don’t even be impolite.  They might not know how dodgy their company is and are only doing the job because they have some kind of work ethic.

But if you do pull this off and cause a dodgy solar company to either shut down or change their ways, then you may save dozens of people from being ripped off.  I would say this makes you better than Batman.  Firstly, because you’re real and Batman’s just a drawing.  But mainly because you’re not a billionaire bodybuilder who beats up poor people and the mentally disturbed.  Instead you are an altruistic member of society helping get rid of some bad apples in the industry.

Footnotes

  1. One of the good episodes before Twilight Sparkle mutated into a genetic abomination.
  2. I can help you avoid men who sell Venetian blinds and advertising chappies but not Australians of all kinds.
  3. I’m not against charity and I occasionally do acts of random kindness.  For example, last year I paid for medical treatment for a complete stranger who was down on his luck.  The reason he was down on his luck was because I happened to reverse over him.  In a way this made me feel responsible, but my help still counts as charity because I didn’t have to help him out.  He was in no condition to recognize me.
  4. Technically what is often called the “solar rebate” is not actually a rebate.  But dodgy telemarketers aren’t likely to care about that.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Ray Havill says:

    Interesting article.

    I understand the general thrust of it but to consider everyone who uses the phone as a crook is bit over the top.

    How do you suggest customers find people to supply solar…only use your services??

    • Ronald Brakels says:

      As mentioned, if you pick someone at random out of the phone book you’re unlikely to get a shoddy company, but if you go with a cold caller the odds are against you.

      I do recommend considering every company that cold calls you to be run by crooks until you have evidence to the contrary. But that’s just my advice. Other people may have a more sanguine outlook on life.

    • Ray,
      Not a situation of “everyone who uses the phone is a crook” (which, was really over-egging the thrust of the article).
      However, in the case of:
      A “cold caller”;
      Trying to flog you something; and
      Sounding like they are operating from a Mumbai / Manila call-centre
      I would suggest there is a better-than-average chance they are not calling on behalf of Mother Theresa, wishing to bestow joy and happiness into your life.

  2. Hi Ronald,
    You must have ESP. No sooner had I finished reading the article than I got a call offering to help me access ” Government Entitlements”. No mention of which govt. I am now going to follow your link to the Do Not Call register.

  3. Thanks for the article on solar telemarketers.

    Best strategy is never ever, that is never hang up on a telemarketer.

    Always politely listen to their first sentence or two then simply politely say the following 3 words. Hold on please.

    Then put the phone down, wait 5 minutes go back to the phone by which time they would have hung up, and you can end the call and place your phone back on charge. In the event that they are still there then that is great tell them sorry hold on please, and come back in 10 minutes time..

    If your strategy of hanging up is followed then they will simply call the next number on the list. If enough of us used hold on please, then their call centres would grind to a halt.

    Regards

    Chris

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