Several of Ohio’s regulated natural gas utilities are no longer purchasing their own natural gas supply for resale. As a result of retail choice, customers have the option to choose their own natural gas supplier. The Ohio Consumer’s Counsel is alerting residential consumers, particularly seniors, to a recent increase in complaints about aggressive activities by door-to-door marketers looking for a quick profit.
Customers are strongly advised not to allow any door-to-door marketers access to their natural gas bill unless they have made the decision to switch to that natural gas supplier. It is a common tactic for salespeople to ask to see a copy with a promise that they can provide a better rate. By sharing sensitive material such as their name, address or account number, customers may place themselves at risk of having their service switched without their knowledge.
The OCC advises customers that when entering into a contract with an independent natural gas supplier, they should seek the following information:
- Whether the agreement will be automatically renewed upon completion;
- Whether automatic renewal would subject customers to a higher rate;
- Whether the contract calls for a fixed (i.e., a set rate that is locked in for a period of time) or variable rate (one that fluctuates with market prices, usually on a monthly basis); and
- Whether any additional fees, such as for enrollment, transfer or cancellation, may be charged.
The OCC has received a number of complaints about salespeople participating in high-pressure tactics and has taken action on their behalf. However, customers can help themselves by being aware of their rights before entering into a contract. First and foremost, customers must know they are legally protected from unfair and deceptive marketing practices by the Consumer Sales Protection Act and by PUCO rules regulating competitive retail natural gas suppliers.
The OCC offers a fact sheet, Understanding the Rules for Door-to-Door Solicitors, that informs customers of their rights and tells them what to look for when approached by a door-to-door salesperson. The OCC also offers an up-to-date chart, Comparing Your Energy Choices, listing all independent natural gas suppliers in Ohio, their rate offers, whether the rates are fixed or variable and the contract length. You may also check out suppliers with BBB.