Avoid “lower natural gas bill” deception from solicitors and impersonators

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Beware of third parties or impersonators selling only part of the story about 'lower natural gas bills' on your doorstep.

Lately across Kent County, residents tell FOX 17 unwanted solicitors have tried to get them to switch from their natural gas distributor like DTE Energy to an alternative gas supplier. And while these solicitors and some felonious impersonators have promised lower bills, in actuality many consumers' bills became more expensive.

"They asked to see my bill," said Josh McCafferty, Grand Rapids resident, to FOX 17 Friday. "They were able to pull up my whole bill just from the part of my account number that I gave them."

McCafferty says fortunately he didn't lose money but he came close: mid-December he says two Direct Energy employees on his doorstep pushed him to switch from DTE to lower his natural gas bill to 36 cents per hundred cubic feet. What those employees did not explain, despite his persistent questioning, was McCafferty would continue to be billed by DTE and Direct Energy, making his future energy bills more expensive.

According to DTE Energy Regional Manager Scotty Kehoe, if you are a natural gas customer in DTE territory and switch to an alternative gas supplier, then DTE will continue to charge you for their transportation costs of that third party's natural gas. DTE will still have to deliver the product to your home.

"My first recommendation is don't show your bill," warned Kehoe.

"It’s actually against our policy to go door to door and solicit your gas bill. We’re a regulated utility: we have set rates by the Michigan Public Service Commission, our rates are consistent and they’re set."

Kehoe adds that if a solicitor is asking to see your energy bill don't show it, or ensure that the account number is not visible. Third parties can switch a consumer's utility bill to their company without the consumer's consent just with the account number; then it's up to the consumer to take legal action. Then, he said ask to see the person's employee badge, and call the company to ensure they're actually a current employee.

"Protect your bill," said Kehoe. "One of the tactics they will use is ask to see your bill. They will write down your account number with DTE Energy. And then behind your back, they will enroll you in the program."

DTE also recommends their customers enroll in "gas lock-in," so only the customer can change their bill to an alternative gas supplier if they choose.

In Michigan, consumers also have natural gas choice, or the freedom to choose their natural gas provider.

  • See the Michigan Public Service Commission's price comparison of natural gas between companies here

While McCafferty cancelled services from a third party in time before any fees, he warns others to ask questions and get legitimate answers from making any decisions.

"I would honestly just tell them to kick rocks," said McCafferty. "There’s no need for it. You’re going to get another bill, almost guaranteed, they’re not going to answer your questions straight. Before you get scammed just think about what actually is happening."

FOX 17 reached out to Direct Energy for comment regarding their employees allegedly approaching residents with insufficient information and we have yet to hear back as of Friday evening. Call the Michigan Agency for Energy to help with ongoing issues with natural gas companies or contracts at: 1-(800)-292-9555.

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