Gas Provider Sales Rep Tries To Bully You Into Signing Up

Reader Jim writes in to let us know that he feels mislead by a pushy salesperson for Vectren Source, a gas supplier in Ohio. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this business, gas suppliers are independent companies that you can choose to purchase gas from instead of your utility.

Here’s the email Jim wrote to the company:

I would like to inform you of something that troubled me greatly yesterday in regards to one of your employees. I live in an apartment complex on [redacted]. Yesterday, an [redacted] came to my door claiming to be from your company.

He immediately went into a spiel about deregulation and how we could be set up with a price freeze. He asked for our Duke Energy bill. I found this to be strange, but told him we get electronic billing. He wanted me to bring the bill up online to show him, which would entail us allowing him into our home.

Upon hearing that, I told him that if this wasn’t something we needed to do, I’d rather we not. He then proceeded to tell me we had to do this. I then got my roommate whom handles the electric bill. We listened to [redacted] try to explain what he was selling, but he was doing it in a manner similar to a car salesman.

My roommate told him he had to leave for work in ten minutes and asked if they could come back. [redacted] then said that wasn’t possible; that once he left, the deal was not available. He told us that Duke Energy does not supply its own gas and that it buys from other companies. He also implied that your company already supplied our gas.

Both of those statements are outright lies. He then proceeded to show us the back of someone’s bill. The name was blacked out, but the address was not, which seems like an invasion of privacy to me. He showed us some random papers stating how the price of gas was predicted to go up, which were claims that I was not given the opportunity to verify independently since “the deal was not available” if we didn’t sign up right then.

He explained that no one ever turned down this deal. He then used his own cell phone to call Duke and only said, and I am paraphrasing, “Hello, hold on, I need to get an account number from you” and then gave the phone to my roommate. I would think he would say something along the lines of explaining why he was getting this account number or at least tell the Duke employee his name and company.

That seemed very shady to me.

Only then, after getting the account number, did he explain about the $25 cancellation fee for not canceling in 7 days. At this point, I didn’t trust him and told him that I was not comfortable with this and that my roommate and I would need to discuss it. [redacted] then proceeded to say “I don’t know why you would be uncomfortable with this,” which is a common scammer tactic.

After I held my ground, he proceeded to tell us we would regret not taking the deal and that in the winter we would remember his name. This is extremely unacceptable and seemed petty and childish. What could very well have been a good deal is now ruined by this man’s misleading sales tactics. I would hope this man’s actions are not endorsed by your company, but since his badge listed him as a Manager and he had a trainee with him, I would guess that is not the case. I would hope, in the future, that you re-evaluate your values as a company and make sure your employees do not try to trick possible customers in this manner. If you wish to explain this man’s actions, I would be happy to receive your reply.

The company Jim mentions seems to have an A- rating at the BBB, but a little more digging produced a March, 2009 article from the Columbus Dispatch that describes a pattern of complaints about this sort of behavior from gas providers in Ohio, including Vectren Source.

The Dispatch analyzed more than 1,200 pages of comments from the past three years and found patterns in complaints about misleading tactics. The complaints grew 33 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Among the recurring themes in the complaints:

• Some marketers pose as representatives of the rate-regulated utilities, so customers are sometimes unaware they are signing a contract with a separate company.

• Solicitation materials often imply that customers will save money with fixed-rate contracts, obscuring the fact that market fluctuations make this impossible to know.

• Some marketers gloss over aspects of the contract that would raise the overall cost, such as cancellation charges, sales tax and fees.

“The sad thing about many of the marketers in this business is that they have frequently engaged in aggressive sales tactics that often mislead customers,” said Jeffrey Mayer, chief executive of MX Energy, a Connecticut-based natural-gas marketer that operates in 14 states, including Ohio.

“Customers are often led to believe they are speaking to a utility and not a marketer, and sometimes they are promised savings,” he said. “Nobody can promise that a customer will save money with a fixed price or any other kind of contract.”

Jim, if you’d like to file a complaint about this behavior, contact the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

For the rest of you, if someone comes to your door claiming to be from your utility, don’t just take their word for it!