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I'm shopping around for solar and a company called me.

I'm a bit suspicious, due to some what I think might be red flags:

  1. The first caller could answer few questions, spoke with a heavy accent, could not tell me details about their physical store in the local area (they said the reason was they have many offices).
  2. I never gave my personal details out to any solar company. They addressed me by someone else's name...a name I often used to address in text scams, like "buy warranty for car" or "refund for computer services", so they clearly got my wrong name and phone number from the same place scammers are getting it.
  3. They want me to E-mail them a copy of my utility bill and photo ID.
  4. They promise to pay me more than hundred dollars if I sit through their on-line meeting and send the items in #3 to them.

I am genuinely interested in having solar installed, but suspicious. Is there a danger of providing this information to them? Is that likely normal procedures for a solar company to request this information?

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    It's a scam. Legitimate business provide business details and do not request personal data for estimates. At best, you should provide a redacted copy of your utility bill. Redacted means physically cutting out your name, address, account number, etc. get referrals from friends with solar. If none, contact the Better Business Bureau for company information. – Bob Baerker Jan 26 at 22:02
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    Utility bills are often used as secondary proofs of identity. (It's why I still have mine snail mailed.) Thus, your red flag 3 rings a loud alarm to me. – RonJohn Jan 26 at 22:03
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    Why are you more concerned about sending a copy of your utility bill than your photo ID? I would think the latter is more dangerous. – Darren Jan 27 at 10:29
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    So they cold called you requesting intimate information that is absolutely sufficient for Identity Theft AND massively exceeds anything necessary for a quote? RUN !!!!! – Hobbamok Jan 27 at 12:08
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    If you want solar, search around for reputable local solar installers in your area and contact them. Then you know you're dealing with someone who's above board. Some solar installers will ask for a copy of the electric bill to gauge your usage (and thus what size system you will need), but to solicit that off the bat, and to use your "fake" details is a huge red flag. Also as Bob said, a legit solar company will be happy with a fully redacted bill (so all that's visible is your electrical usage). – Doktor J Jan 27 at 14:30
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Let's suppose they really are selling solar electric systems. Perhaps they are engaged in other kinds of fraud instead, in which case your ID and bill could be used to buy other expensive things on merchant credit (e.g. a used automobile; jewelry; i-phones).

So these solar generators are expensive systems, and they earn sales commissions. I speculate the sales commission is a lot more than the $100 they offer you to listen -- which means the systems may be hyped. They probably need to be either sold on credit or leased. They may work with a finance company or bank that requires a signed contract, photo id of buyer, and confirmation of address (e.g. a residential bill). If you give them the last two, they only need your signature. They might also obtain your signature at a sign-in book for the meeting, or on your photo id. By copying/forging your signature they would have a sale and earn their sales commission. It might cost a lot of money to reverse an undesired sale.

The electric bill can also be used for either truthful or hyped-up marketing, and for the legitimate purpose of deciding how many solar panels are required to meet residential electric usage. Electricity usage for heating and cooling is seasonal though I suppose one could make a rough estimate of maximum usage from a single bill -- with the excess sold back to the local utility.

Of course, it could simply be a slightly-less sleazy business where sales are streamlined by copying everything needed from the ID and electric bill to the sales contract, which is ready for you to simply sign. You won't know unless you play the game -- something I would not risk. There are other companies that don't use high pressure sales techniques.

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    FWIW, some utilities also include historical usage data on the bill; for example, my provider has both a graph and a table of the past year's usage in a sidebar. This information is useful to legitimate solar vendors. Of course an electric bill is also useful to fraudsters for a number of other purposes too... – Doktor J Jan 27 at 14:47
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I'm more wary of the photo ID than the utility bill. I haven't pulled the trigger on solar but I did do some price shopping. Every company needed a copy of my electric bill in order to provide a quote but I don't recall them needing my ID at the initial quote stage. The request very well could be legit though, especially if the company calling you is a third party sales lead generator for a solar company. The utility bill is what's needed for the quote and the photo ID could be what's needed for the sales team to prove their leads are real so it's harder for them to fake them to inflate their commission.

Regardless, I wouldn't entertain a cold call. Research some solar companies that you want to deal with, ask your neighbors who they have or are dealing with, and stick to them. If you initiate the phone call you don't have to worry about whether the company calling you is real or not.

As for what a scammer could do if they have a copy of your utility bill, there's nothing in the bill itself that is sacred so the information itself isn't really a risk. But having an actual copy of a bill could be used as a secondary piece of information which is sometimes required for proof of residency. Putting that together with a photo ID could enable someone to create a new photo ID with your information and initiate identity theft. Again, unless you were specifically targeted (which is unlikely if they didn't know your real name) it's probably a legitimate sales call, but I wouldn't take the risk in case it's scammy instead of just scummy.

As a side note, if a solar company cold calls and you actually want to test them, explain that you don't think you have an electric bill so ask if you can provide a water utility bill instead. (Sounds crazy but if you think it through a scammer is likely to agree to this if they just need proof of residency for identity theft.) If they do say yes then you know with 100% certainty it's a scam.

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    Seconded--they're using the electric bill to size the system. It really should be 12 months of usage information, though. I've never been asked for ID when getting solar quotes, though. – Loren Pechtel Jan 27 at 0:54
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    As suggested by BobBaerker, you could also offer a redacted copy of your bill -- a scanned copy where you've completely blacked out at least your name, address, and account numbers (name and address are critical for address verification/proof of residency scams, account numbers for slamming scams). – Doktor J Jan 27 at 14:45
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    @LorenPechtel every one of my monthly electric bills contains the graph and numbers of the previous 12 months. I don't know if that's the norm or not. – TTT Jan 27 at 14:56
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    I work at a power company and am currently on a project trying to deal with the amount of crap caused by these solar cold-callers. They will log a connection application on your behalf as soon as they get your address, even before they have your name, and fill in the rest with crap data. Even if they aren't actually scammers, they are as bad as them. – Nacht Jan 27 at 22:31
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    @eis: That's pointed out in literally the very next sentence. – Ben Voigt Jan 28 at 21:22
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Identity theft, probably.

Photo ID is not something a business has a legitimate interest in, unless the business is granting you a loan.

Where I live, it is pretty much usual to ask a customer to show a recent utility bill (electricity, water) as a weak form of a postal address verification.

Both things may or may not be enough to get you a loan. Here, a bank would not do that, but one can pretty much get a quick and expensive loan from a half-legitimate credit institution.

Other risks (as per comments below grom @vikingsteve) include getting a SIM card or bank account in your name.

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    Definitely this. OP should be wary. Photo ID plus an electricity bill is enough to do a lot of things in someone else's name, from getting a SIM card to opening a bank account. – vikingsteve Jan 27 at 11:22
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    Yes, this is the answer to the question 'what's the danger?' Utility bills are often an option for multi-document identify verification. – JimmyJames Jan 27 at 17:33
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It's slamming

Slamming is when they switch your utility provider without your knowledge.

Look at your electric bill. You will find separate line-items for the cost of distribution of power (use of the lines going to your house) and cost of generating that power.

You can't change your distribution company - that's your local power company (Edison). But you can change your generating company, e.g. to select a zero-carbon energy provider. This "bills through" on your regular electric bill from your local distributor (e.g. Edison). It's only seen in the "fine print".

Slamming is changing your "generating company" without your consent, hoping you will not notice the fine print. Last time I investigated one, they used independent salesmen and paid them commission-only, at $600 per signup.

That alone is a heck of an incentive to "scam you". Either by flat out slamming you without consent, or by wrapping it in a sales-job of some kind.

And/or it's lead generation

There is also a healthy marketplace in qualified sales leads. Once they have screened you as genuinely interested in solar, real solar companies will pay for that. That isn't technically a scam, it's a common sales funnel technique... but the "highest bidders" for your details are often companies that aren't very good.

Referring you out to a real solar company also covers part of a "slamming" scam, if they convinced you to change power supplier by claiming it's part of getting solar.

By the way... be a smart consumer with solar

You probably know this but it's gotta be said for readers: Solar systems WILL NOT power your house during a power outage! This can be done, but considerations need to be made for that at the beginning. And with mindfulness for who actually owns the system, because some deals get very tricky-dicky.

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I don't know about the U.S., but in Germany, if you want to change your utility provider, they only need your meter ID number to process this. There have been cases where a change to another provider was performed without the customer wanting this.

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    This looks more like a comment than an answer. – RonJohn Jan 27 at 14:54
  • It's touching on an issue called "slamming", which indeed is huge in the USA. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 27 at 23:56

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