Wednesday, March 25, 2020

PUC Warns Public About Telemarketing Scams During COVID-19 Pandemic; Do Not Call List

On March 25, the Public Utility Commission reminded consumers to remain vigilant when discussing energy supply service with telemarketers, particularly if the contact was unsolicited.  Additionally, consumers are encouraged to be on the lookout for unscrupulous activity and potential scam artists who may pose as utility representatives.
“Rules of the Road” for Energy Sales
The PUC has established clear guidelines for energy telemarketing in Pennsylvania.  When discussing electric and natural gas supply service with telemarketers, we ask consumers to keep in mind these three basic rules:
-- Caller must tell you who they are;
-- They must clearly explain why they are calling; and,
-- They cannot claim to represent the PUC, another utility or other organization.
“Pennsylvania’s ‘rules of the road’ for energy marketing are there to ensure that consumers get clear, direct information about who is contacting them and what they are attempting to sell,” said PUC Vice Chairman David W. Sweet. 
Sales agents must immediately identify themselves, identify the supplier they are representing and the reason for the call. If the agent fails to do this immediately, the consumer should end the call.
The reason for the telephone call should be specific.  Any vague and potentially misleading statements – for example, “I am calling about an urgent matter concerning your generation service,” or “about your utility bill,” or “about your discount /refund /rebate /bonus/overcharges” should alert the consumer to end the call. 
Additionally, sales agents may not suggest a relationship with a utility – such as your local electric or natural gas distribution company; a government agency – such as the PUC; or other supplier – including false claims that other suppliers are “going out of business” or experiencing other problems.
Do Not Call List
The Commission also reminded consumers that both the state and federal “Do Not Call” lists and regulations apply to all energy suppliers marketing services in Pennsylvania and are intended to safeguard consumers on those lists from unwanted calls. 
In addition to Do Not Call list protections, suppliers are also required to honor requests from individual consumers to not be contacted again. 
For more information on Pennsylvania’s “Do Not Call” list and to enroll, see the Attorney General’s website.
Tips for Energy Shopping
-- Ask for the name of the supplier.
-- Ask for the price and other terms and conditions. Know and understand how it compares to your utility price. Ask to be provided the information in writing so you can review and fully consider it before making any quick decisions.
-- Only share account information over the phone if you are ready to make a switch.
-- Do not feel pressured to make any decisions over the phone or immediately.  If an offer sounds too good to be true, the customer should think twice before acting – and if you feel pressured to act immediately, you should end the call. No reasonable offer should require a consumer to act immediately.
The PUC urges consumers to avoid intimidating sales pitches pressuring them to act now, reminding them that they are not required to choose a competitive supplier for their electricity or natural gas supply. 
Should the customer elect to enter into a contract with a competitive supplier, residents should expect the following once the supplier’s sales agent completes a transaction:
-- The sales agent must explain the supplier’s verification process that is used to confirm the customer’s intent to switch suppliers;
-- The supplier must send by mail or email a full disclosure statement with all contractual terms and conditions along with a shorter contract summary that highlights the most important terms;
-- Customers may rescind the transaction within three business days after receiving the disclosure statement.
Possible Scams
Be alert for any caller who demands immediate payment for utility or supplier service.  No utility or supplier is going to demand immediate payment up-front for service.  
And no utility or supplier is going to call you and threaten to terminate your service - including demands that payments be made using gift cards, wire transfers or other non-traditional ways of paying your bill. 
Any caller making these kinds of demands and threats is NOT a utility or a supplier – and you should end the call immediately.   
The Commission has prohibited utilities from terminating service during the current COVID-19 emergency.  
If you have any questions about your utility or supply service – call your utility or supplier – their phone number is on your utility bill.  
When facing an aggressive sales agent or suspecting a potential scam, consumers are encouraged to contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services at 1-800-692-7380.  The PUC continually monitors suppliers and their sales and marketing activities through both the PUC’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight and its Bureau of Consumer Services.
For more information, visit the Public Utility Commission website. 
[Posted: March 25, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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