Traveling Gas Sellers Rip Off Homeowners In Michigan

Universal Gas & Electric, a Canadian company, sends out door-to-door salesmen who lie to homeowners about the imaginary “savings” they’ll enjoy if they switch gas suppliers, when in reality Universal is currently about 50% higher than the default supplier. One former Universal employee says, “I’d have people ask, ‘What am I paying now?’ and they’d look at the bill and it’s right there in front of them and they don’t know where to look and I would avoid telling them that.”

Universal officials in Toronto told Target 8 Investigators that over the life of the five-year plan they believe customers will actually save money. They say you shouldn’t judge the plan six months into a five-year contract, even though prices are currently dropping.

Former salesman Al Brogg, who calls the way Universal sells gas “misleading, dishonest, unethical,” also thinks that might still happen, and that it might work eventually in customers favor.

But he said, “Today it’s not going to save people money. It’s actually going to cost them almost 50 percent more.”

Universal officials take no responsibility for any lies told by sales people. They say lying violates their code of conduct, however, “it’s possible…a couple of sales people went off and did their own thing to increase sales.”

Frustrated homeowners say the salesmen told them “they can cancel their contract at any time but failed to mention it costs $250 to switch back”—and if they go ahead and cancel, Universal claims it will take a couple of billing cycles to complete the transfer. Quick, someone buy Universal a computerized billing system.

It should go without saying, but if you can’t compare apples to apples between two bills, don’t change to a new supplier. Sadly, most gas bills are hard to read. Here’s one attempt to clarify some of the numbers—you should look for a Gas Recovery Cost. You should also do a search for a similar “how to read my gas bill” page on your local gas supplier’s website.

(Thanks to Jack!)

“Traveling gas sales people: we ‘misled’ customers” [WOODTV]
(Photo: tanakawho)


Edit Your Comment

  1. humphrmi says:

    These door-to-door salesmen are scum, you’ll get absolutely no argument from me. But I can’t help but think that part of the problem – which the article alluded to – is that the traditional / legacy gas providers don’t do a very good job of making your gas costs transparent.

  2. JollyJumjuck says:

    @humphrmi: Agreed. Also, I don’t know about Universal, but I know at least one reseller in Ontario which stipulates in their contract that it is for a fixed period of time (e.g. five years) but the contract is cancellable at any time by the company. Talk about one-sided!

  3. satoru says:

    This has been going on in Toronto for years. The company’s name keeps changing but the tactics are identical. They basically hire a bunch of third parties to help sell their product. The third party then goes rampant in deceptive tactics to get sales so they get more money. They even train their employees how to be this way, so it’s not some ‘rouge’ person, it’s systemic.

    Since it’s a third party, once the skeletons come out, the company has an out. They just claim the third party was responsible, but that we are ‘ethical and moral and would never engage in such practices’. Add a ‘We are taking it very seriously’ press statement and you have a Consumerist trifecta in play!

    Though I must admit I do get a sense of satisfaction knowing that some poor schmuck had to go to my parent’s place and try to sell this stuff to my dad. He seems like an easy mark, a small thin Asian with an English accent. But woes is he who tries to pull the wool over him. He has no problem expressing his anger over these kinds of scams and would wail on that poor salesman for hours if he had the chance. He doesn’t have the Consumerist tact, but he’s got the Consumerist knack :)

  4. DeliBoy says:

    I had one of these idiots, a middle-white woman, show up at my Detroit-area door. Don’t remember if it was Universal, but their pitch bore all the hallmarks of this scam: they’d like to see your bill, the offer is only good while they’re at your door, and you can’t have any of their promotional literature unless you sign up. She got pretty upset when I chased her away from my elderly neighbor’s porch. Wish I could do that for the entire neighborhood.

  5. senor_tron says:

    I am from Grand Rapids (WOODTV is our local news) Michigan and these jokers came around through my neighborhood a few months ago (early autumn) right before winter. The two guys who came to my door looked very questionable and were dressed quite sloppily. After their whole spiel and some aggressive demands that i should go and get a copy of my gas bill, I told these two yahoos to get lost. A few days later some guy from the next street over came walking around telling/warning neighbors that he had signed up, double checked his current gas bill after the fact and was now being charged quite a bit more. Luckily I had read about these snake oil salesman in an online article (i think it was at the consumerist) and was suspicious immediately. I’m sure they were able to swindle quite a few people around here though as winter lasts forever up here and heating costs can become a real burden for some…

    In general I am suspicious of anyone trying to sell me stuff door-to-door. Between television & printed advertising and the internet, do we still really need to have our lives at home invaded by shady salespeople?

  6. Mike_ says:

    These scumbags have paid me two visits over the past year. Next time they show up, I’m going to stall them while I call the police. They’ve been operating without a vending license, a requirement for door-to-door sales in my township.

  7. orielbean says:

    I did a seller change for my electricity in Massachusetts, and I definitely saw the price go down, which was nice. Then I got a letter saying that I’d been signed up for an in house contract repair service…Needless to say I called the customer service / sales group to chew them a new one. And the CSR was definitely used to hearing about it… :-)

  8. NotATool says:

    @JollyJumjuck: Great deal for the company! They tell you they guarantee a fixed price for you. Your initial price is 50% higher than your current provider’s price. Then, if prices rise above that, they can just cancel your contract.

    We have the same scammers around here (Chicago area). They’re currently being sued by the Illinois Attorney General for their scammy practices.

    Here’s a link to a news report where they actually interview a company official, who admits that they only provide customers with “piece of mind.”

    The “Savings” in their company name? Apparently refers to how their investors can invest their savings in the company.


  9. Go4EVA says:

    Someone I know here in MI fell for this scam. Sad thing is, he didn’t have enough money to pay his bills in the first place.

  10. nursetim says:

    I live in the Grand Rapids area, and I had someone representing this company stop by my house three times in one week. Each time I cut them off before they got too far into their pitch and told them I wasn’t interested. Surprisingly, the didn’t argue, and left. I immediately thought of the series that was done here on IDT, and the tactics they used to get people to sign up. Glad to see my instincts were right about those folks.

  11. gamin says:

    that’s waht happens when you trust a Canadian

  12. calvinneal says:

    !. These were American scammers. As you all know,canadians are not allowed to sell door to door without a work permit.2 All door to door sales in Michigan can be cancelled within three days.

  13. Tansis says:

    I walked into one of these sales visiting my mom. The sales lady really convinced my mom this was going to save her lots of money. The sales lady left immediately after I arrived. I found out she was selling contracts as mentioned above. My mom had signed the contract too. I told her she was scammed and had to prove it to her by going to websites listing the price savings of her contract. With a calculator I proved to her that with her current utility rate she would have spent $200 over her normal bill for the three year contract. $200 might not seem like a lot of money, but a person living on a fixed income, it really is. The contract said she could cancel, but only for the first three days after signing. I made sure she did that.