Warning to Public Utilities/Energy Customers in New Jersey
Representatives of a so-called "ENERGY RE-SELLER" have been engaging in a practice known as "slamming". Similar in technique to the type of fraud commonly committed during the period following the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, "slamming" is the changing of service providers for a utility client without their knowledge or express permission. This practice has been sufficiently widespread in New Jersey and other States that attorneys are already circling, preparing class-action suits against the energy "re-seller". The higher rates then charged are used to fuel the commissions and fees paid out by the reseller, and the profits they charge on top of what you would normally have paid.
How does this happen?
A salesperson/account executive will approach you at your home, and ask to compare "their" rates. Once you have shown the person at the door your bill, they have your Provider and Account number, which is all they need (besides your name and address) to change your billing.
After you speak with them, if you tell them "No", they thank you for your time, and leave - and the less reputable agents change your billing, anyway. Commissions for these transactions can be several hundred dollars, depending on the clients' energy usage, so there is an incentive for bad actors to do commit fraud.
Were they actually reducing your rate, it still is unconscionable that they are changing your provider agreement without your consent. It's worse, though, because the rates in the program they are promoting are variable in nature, and INVARIABLY HIGHER than the legitimate providers' rates, once you receive an actual bill. (How did you think they paid the commission to the soliciting "agents"?)
If they change your provider agreement WITH your consent, the verbal promises of savings espoused by the "agent" are non-binding - only the language of the agreement is admissible in court, and that is in light printing on NCR forms, with 8-point text paragraphs of lawyers translating English into English.
Do they have to come to your door?
No - once they have your "numbers", they can submit the change form. Unless you balk, you might not immediately notice this has happened - until your bill spirals upward. Changes are reported to have happened in other States by representatives using discarded utility bills.
What should you do if you receive a notice that your service has been changed (without your prior knowledge)?
Call your primary provider, and block the change. Because they came to your door, you enjoy a right of rescission even if you initially agreed to the change. The terms of your rights are required to be spelled out in the contract.
Contact the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and lodge a complaint.
A special web-link has been prepared specifically for "Energy Slamming"** complaints -
Be sure to mention "energy slamming" in the "comments" section.
Further, from the BPU Web-Site: http://www.state.nj.us/bpu/assistance/index.html
"Consumers are encouraged to send in any documentation that would be helpful in resolving their complaint. However, Commission staff may request a copy of the page of the consumer's telephone bill that contains the alleged slam.
Copies of bills can be sent to Board of Public Utilities Two Gateway Center, Newark New Jersey 07102. You can also fax copies to 1-973-648-2836. Please refer correspondence to the Division of Customer Assistance, Bureau of Investigations."
Save ALL utility bills and notices in a safe place for future reference. If you notice that your utilities have again been "slammed" - complain AGAIN. It is not unheard of for this organization and others like it to switch you AGAIN after initially being blocked.
If you don't file the complaints, the State has no way to help you. Neither does your utility provider.
Additionally, individual municipalities often have ordinances that prohibit door-to-door solicitation for goods and services without license.
A sample Solicitor's License application (Willingboro Twp., NJ) may be found HERE:
The solicitor is required to present two photos for ID production, and to pay 2 dollars for the License Application and 15 additional dollars, if granted. (Veterans may apply for an exemption).
Fingerprinting and Record Checks are also required in Willingboro.
** A separate dedicated link is set up for Telephone/Long Distance "slamming" practices.