Feds Sue To Halt Illegal Solar Panel Telemarketing Operation

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

It’s not against the law to tell people they might be able to save money by slapping some solar panels on their roofs. What is illegal is using millions of unauthorized calls to people on the Do Not Call list to sell those solar panels.

The Federal Trade Commission, along with the Department of Justice, filed a lawsuit today against Francisco Salvat and his companies for violating the Telemarketing Sale Rule by operating a campaign that delivered pre-recorded “robocall” messages selling solar panels to consumers.

According to the complaint [PDF], the companies — operating under the names KFJ Marketing, Sunlight Solar Leads LLC, Go Green Education — allegedly placed 1.3 million illegal pre-recorded telemarketing calls to consumers with phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry warning them of a purported “14% increase” in their energy bills.

To convey a sense of urgency and legitimacy, the robocalls allegedly contained statements such as “this is an important public service announcement,” and “this is an urgent call about your energy bill.”

The calls then prompted consumers to “press one” to lower their electric bills. When listeners did that, they were connected to an employee of the operation who asked about the consumer’s interest in solar panels.

If the consumer expressed interest in solar panels, the telemarketer scheduled an appointment with a private solar installation company and sold the consumer’s information to that company as a customer lead.

When consumers asked the defendants not to call them again, the complaint alleges their requests were often ignored.

In some cases, the FTC and DOJ allege that the operation “spoofed” their calls by transmitting phony caller identification information so that recipients didn’t know the true source of the calls.

In all, the FTC and DOJ charge the operation of violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by calling consumer whose numbers are on the DNC Registry, continuing to call those who had asked not to be called, failing to transmit accurate called-ID info, and making illegal robocalls.

The agencies are seeking civil penalties, relief or consumers, and a court order to permanently bar Salvat and his companies from participating in similar lead generation tactics.