Me? Get scammed? Behave yourself! A cynical old ex-journalist who knows all about due diligence? Who's done hard selling and studied the psychology of selling? Never!
Well, here I am, baring all and confessing. Yes, I too have been scammed and am still paying a heavy price for it.
I started out in journalism and have worked as an investigative reporter
First a bit of background. I started out in journalism and my various roles since have included working as an investigative reporter in the murky world of offshore finance and investments, and being a 'chugger'. That stands for charity mugger – the annoying types who pounce on you in a supermarket foyer and convince you with their silver tongued-promises to sign up for some charity you would probably never have considered otherwise.
I'm also very 'green'. Alternative energy, sustainable development, electric bicycle, the works. When I bought my 'grottage' (grotty cottage) in France, there was no electricity so I used small solar camping kits for lighting. I still use them. So I was very keen on getting into the photovoltaic panels scene.
I do my own research when I want to buy a product
Cold callers usually get short shrift with me, and I was getting endless phone calls trying to sell me solar panels. My rule is when I want to buy a product, I will do my research and contact the companies which seem to offer the best deal.
One company who phoned me caught my attention, though, as the salesman tried to speak English, having seen my name. In fact we spoke in French as his English was much worse than my French, but I did agree to him sending round a salesman.
He duly arrived, sharp suited, reeking of expensive aftershave. I warned him that my rule was never, ever, to sign anything without taking time to study it first in great detail by myself. That rule goes double for documents in French.
Nothing to pay up front
The salesman was thorough and professional. He covered absolutely everything. He asked to see my accounts. As I only worked part-time, they were laughable. There was no way I could cover the expensive bank loan to pay for the panels but he kept assuring me they would produce enough to do that so it would effectively cost me nothing.
He also told me there would be a one thousand euro gold handshake, the bank loan repayments wouldn't start until the end of the first year of production, and I would be able to get a tax refund of about 800 euros through a government scheme. All of which sounded very inviting.
Why did I sign up on the spot?
Despite all that, to this day I am not sure why I signed up on the spot, having been determined not to. But I did. The panels themselves were installed very quickly, in just over a week.
We seldom get rain from the south here, but the first time we did, I discovered an added attraction of my new panels. I could take a cold shower, without even getting out of my bed, as my almost new roof now leaked like a sieve when the wind was in the wrong direction.
Solar panels don't work without transformers, and without being connected to the grid. It took nearly nine months for the rest of the work to be done, in which time, my panels sat there uselessly during hour after hour of productive sunshine.
It was not until nearly two years after the panels were installed that I finally got my first pay check from the electricity company and discovered that they had in fact earned less than half what I had been promised, leaving me with a big shortfall to pay back the loan.
Twitter to the rescue
Thank goodness for social media! Through Twitter, I discovered a fellow crime writer in northern France who was having the same problems with the same company and she put me onto her lawyer.
The lawyer spotted dodgy dealings in both the installation contract and the contract with the bank. Now we are going into battle in the French courts to have the contracts declared null and void. A win for us would mean the panels would be taken away and the roof put back to its former condition, the bank loan would be cancelled and I would be repaid the amount I have already forked out.
I chose a good lawyer
This lawyer has good form. She has already won several such cases, but the bank is appealing on at least three of them. Surprise, surprise, the installers went into liquidation shortly after the installation was complete and are probably already trading under a different name.
I did my due diligence. Before going with them, I check all over Google to see if there were any adverse reports. They weren't, they only started afterwards. This was a big company who looked genuine. They were sponsoring the French TV equivalent of Come Dine With Me, so clearly had a big advertising budget.
The moral of this story is think before you sign – anything.
Lesley Krier Tither writes travel memoirs under the name Tottie Limejuice and crime novels as L M Krier.