Maryland Electric Company Sends You Unsolicited Light Bulbs, Charges $12

An electric company in Maryland, Allegheny Power, sent its customers some CFL light bulbs as part of a consumer education program. Sounds nice until you find out that they customers were charged $0.96 a month (about $12 a year) for the two light bulbs.

From the Cumberland Times-News:

In May 2005, Susan put her family on an Allegheny Power payment plan that automatically deducts the total amount due on her monthly electric bill from her checking account. In her own words, she has “never, ever, ever, ever been late.” Not once.

So when Munck called Allegheny Power’s toll-free customer service number Wednesday morning to let the company know she had no intention of paying the 96-cent surcharge for the next 12 months for receiving two compact fluorescent, energy-efficient light bulbs, she was understandably taken aback by the company’s response.

“They threatened to turn off my power if I didn’t pay this 96 cents,” said Munck, one of 220,000 Allegheny Power residents to which bulbs were sent.

When Munck told the customer service representative she didn’t need the bulbs – her home already is “full of those bulbs” – she was told she could give them to a neighbor but, regardless, she’d be charged for them.

“That was really underhanded what they did,” Munck said. “It’s unconscionable.”

Some consumers are questioning whether or not it’s legal for a company to randomly mail you things, then charge you for them.

The Times-News heard from a number of upset power company customers in the past two days. Cumberland residents Howard Losiewicz, Jeff Hedrick and Richard Kirchner all questioned whether it was legal to send an unsolicited item through the U.S. Postal Service and charge for it.

“If they mail it to you, it’s yours,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick, an at-home pastry aficionado, said he bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie and plans on sending a tin full of them to Allegheny Power every 30 days – with an invoice equal to his monthly electric bill.

A U.S. Postal Service spokesman said mail customers have the option of refusing an unsolicited item and requesting a refund as long as the package has not been opened.

Turns out, it doesn’t even matter. The power company is charging its customers for the bulbs even if they were returned unopened or if the customer claims they never got them. No exceptions.

Faithful Allegheny Power customer considers mailing ‘underhanded’
[Cumberland News-Times]
(Photo:Paul Keller)

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