Fred Ruhland, like many Ohioans, has been approached by energy sales companies before, but never with a deal like this one.
The Anderson Township homeowner said two sales people showed up at his door last week, promising him "up tp $100 a month savings on your Duke bill."
With winter approaching, and his Duke bill high in recent months, he asked for more details. That's when he discovered how they could offer him $100 in savings.
"It wasn't a direct discount," he said. "It was a rebate program."
Indeed, the fine print on the flier stated that each month he paid his electric bill he would get coupons for $100 in savings from local stores, such as Subway, Dick's Sporting Goods, The Nike Store and other retailers.
There was no real discount he could find.
He told the sales people, "No thanks."
Tactics get more aggressive
Last fall, Heather and Talon Matson of Batavia complained to us about being harassed by aggressive energy salesmen.
"They come almost daily and knock on our door, and ask if we want to switch carriers. They are pretty forceful,” Heather Matson said. "They kind of push their way in and ask to see your bill, and promise to save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars."
These salespeople work for competitors to Duke Energy, under a plan approved by Ohio lawmakers over a decade ago. Unlike in Indiana and Kentucky, Ohio ratepayers are allowed to switch electric and gas providers, ostensibly to save money on their monthly bills.
But Duke energy spokeswoman Sally Thelen said Duke has thousands -- yes thousands -- of complaints about aggressive sales people who claim to be working with Duke, calling and knocking on doors, offering a “discount” on your bill.
"They are very predatory," Thelen said. "We even have employees getting calls. We are turning them into the Public Utility Commission (of Ohio), making sure our legal team is very aware.”
The State of Ohio allows unsolicited solicitation by energy companies by mail, phone or door-to-door.
But they are supposed to make it clear that they are with a competitor and not working for Duke Energy. And they are not supposed to ask for your account number, something Thelen said they are often doing.
"Really their tactics are getting more aggressive. So we want to remind customers we are never going to call you for your account number because we already have it. So be vigilant. Don’t share it over the phone. Don’t share it if someone comes to your front door," Thelen said.
What you can do
Thelen suggests you never show an energy salesman your bill because you are giving him your name, address and Duke account number. An unscrupulous salesperson (who may be paid by the number of accounts switched over) can use that information, along with something that looks like your signature, to switch you to an alternate provider.
Thelen said deceptive sales phrases include:
- "We work with Duke." No they don’t.
- "We can get you a rebate (or refund) on your bill." No they can’t.
- We need to see your bill to see if you qualify for a discount." No they don’t. A Duke worker will never need to see your bill or account number because they already have it.
Some alternate providers can save you a substantial amount of money compared with Duke. However, some are even more expensive. Your best bet is to compare rates before you switch at the Public Utility Commission of Ohio's Apples to Apples chart.
As always, don't waste your money.
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