BBB: Beware of ‘other’ gas company’s sales tricks

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Better Business Bureau is warning DTE Energy customers across West Michigan to beware of salespeople trying to trick them into switching to an alternative gas company.

The BBB says in one recent case the salespeople for Texas-based Direct Energy misrepresented themselves as DTE employees.

“They’re knocking on the door, at least one case identifying themselves as working for DTE, and asking if they had some specific charges on their DTE bill and they may be able to assist the consumer in having those charges removed,” BBB President/CEO Phil Catlett told 24 Hour News 8.

But, he says, those charges are legitimate and can’t be removed.

“It’s their way, the salesperson’s way, of getting ahold of your energy bill,” then convincing residents they can save money by switching to Direct Energy, Catlett said.

And, for a while, Catlett said, they will save money.

“Come in the winter time, all of a sudden, there’s a shock that they’re paying a lot more than they were expecting,” Catlett said.

Direct Energy is licensed with the Michigan Public Service Commission as an alternative gas supplier. The BBB gives the company a “C” rating and has received more than 600 complaints against the company across the U.S. in the last three years and 200 in 2014, Catlett said.

Catlett said the salespeople are becoming “increasingly aggressive,” sometimes knocking on the same doors three times a day. “One recent complaint alleges that the sales person actually pushed the consumer’s door open,” Catlett said in a news release. He said they may be targeting seniors

Karen Koetje and other residents in the area of 32nd Street and Kalamazoo Avenue SE say two salespeople from Direct Energy hit their neighborhood a couple months ago.

“They were very persistent and wouldn’t let me say no,” Koetje said, though she added they did not lie to her.

“They wanted to see my energy bill from DTE energy and they said they could get me a better deal,” she said.

“I didn’t even get my bill out. I told them I wasn’t interested. I was happy with DTE and, yeah, they could just leave.”

But one of her neighbors switched, about a year ago. Ulises Salas said the switch hasn’t saved his family money. “Dollar-wise, no difference,” he said.

The switch, he said, hasn’t stopped the salespeople from knocking at their door,” asking us to switch to the service we already have,” Salas said.

Direct Energy sent 24 Hour News 8 the following statement on Friday:

“Direct Energy contracts with third-party vendors to provide door-to-door marketing services. We provide these vendor’s sales agents with Direct Energy-issued uniforms, name tags, and photo identification badges, in addition to mandatory training that complies with all state regulatory standards. We have the ability to track agents on any given day, along with conducting a separate third-party recorded verification at the point of sale.

“Unless we know about a specific incident at a particular address, we cannot confirm the accuracy of the allegations made by the BBB of Western Michigan. We take these matters very seriously, and will be following up to conduct further investigation.”

BBB suggests the following when approached by a door to door solicitor:

  • Do not be pressured into providing personal information or sharing your bill
  • Request proof of employment with company/Employment ID card
  • If someone shows up at your house unexpectedly and claims to work for a utility company call the company and confirm that it authorized the person to visit your home
  • Check the company’s BBB Business Review
  • If you suspect something is amiss, contact BBB

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