Gas Choice program confusion: consumer education and sales practices to blame

Demand proof of any debt you don't think you owe

AKRON, Ohio - Paying too much for your natural gas? You can do something about it under Ohio's Gas Choice program. However, state records show consumers don't understand the program and don't know who supplies their gas. Consumer education is one issue, but sales tactics are also to blame.

In neighborhoods across Northeast Ohio, door to door salesman are asking you to lock in low rates for your winter heating. The Gas Choice program gives you options, but some say the competition is getting too heated.

"How would you describe the sales practices? They could be high pressure," Edward Dipold said.

Dipold said he refuses most door to door offers so he was surprised to find out he's been locked into a rate since 2010. To get out of it, Just Energy wanted $100.

"I was ready to pay it. Who wants to deal with a collection agency? $100 is not enough to justify giving somebody a hard time over, but my wife was not going to let that go," Dipold said.

Ken Novak wasn't going to let his $100 fee go either. He called Five On Your Side in August when a different gas supplier told him he owed them money .

"We have an early termination fee that's $100. I don't remember the switch," Novak explained.

The gas supplier told Five On Your Side it had proof Novak owed the debt, and he paid it. In that story, we also suggested consumers request a copy of the debt. After seeing our story, Dipold called to share his experience.

He requested the paperwork and the writing on it caught his attention.

"The misspelling of my name. I mean we had a good laugh over that," Dipold said.

His last name is Dipold not Diplod, and he says the signature on the contract was not his. He showed us his debit card and license signature to prove it.

"Things got a little serious later when my wife called them back and said we have a forged document from you do you wish to take this any farther?"

Just Energy sent us a statement that said, "The agent's conduct was unacceptable and in violation of our policies and was therefore terminated."

After Dipold requested proof of his contract and questioned the authenticity of it, Just Energy dropped the early termination fee.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said 49 consumers called to say they felt misled by Just Energy in the last year.

The company's door to door marketing tactics came under fire in 2010. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the company paid a $100-thousand fine to settle the allegations.

Just Energy said, "In respect of the agreement, changes to our sales processes were made which provide improved checks and balances and have resulted in increased customer satisfaction."

Bottom line - know your rights. People should really learn from Dipold and demand proof before they pay up.

Don't give in to a company if you don't think you owe the debt.

Interested in the Gas Choice program? The PUCO posts the going rates and terms of the offer in an Apples to Apples Chart .

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