Gas Company Going Door-to-Door Raises Eyebrows in White Lake
Several people have complained about Direct Energy employees requesting gas bills and posing as workers with Consumers Energy.
White Lake Police have been fielding calls from residents complaining about gas company employees showing up to their houses in the evenings asking to see their bills or account information.
During the past week, residents from White Lake, Fenton and Holly, have reported that the "pushy" solicitors - promising to save them money on gas bills - say they work with Consumers Energy, but wear badges that say Direct Energy.
This is not the first time Direct Energy - a legitimate alternate supplier of Natural Gas in Michigan - has come under fire for its door-to-door selling tactics. Since 2007, the State of Michigan Attorney General has received eight complaints about Direct Energy's door-to-door sales approach.
Claire Monaghan, a Direct Energy spokesperson, said Friday that door-to-door visiting is the company's chosen sales strategy because it has been successful with one-on-one conversations.
"Many people don't understand that they have a choice when it comes to utilities and that's what we want to explain on these visits," she said.
But she said would follow-up on the complaints.
"We work with a number of third-party vendors throughout the country and I am very concerned to hear that we have customers who feel our representatives have been pushy," Monaghan said. "We have a policy where all our people are properly ID'd and they should tell you they represent Direct Energy.
Lt. Don Nankervis with the White Lake Police Department said residents should never hand over bills or personal information to people going door-to-door.
“Close the door on them,” Nankervis said. “If they don’t leave your property you can call the police.”
What was most confusing, White Lake residents said, is that they first thought the person worked for the company with whom they already had a contract for gas.
“They said they were with Consumers Energy and that they needed to see my bill,” said Kristal Tinsler. “He said my bill was missing some numbers so he called a number and told me someone would call me to confirm everything and to answer 'yes' to all the questions.”
Debra Dodd, a spokeswoman for Consumers said her company has received a number of complaints about Direct Energy in that past few months and that she personally recently fielded one from Kalamazoo.
"We always advise our customers that, if in doubt, they should ask to see the person's ID. All of our employees carry Consumers Energy identification with them. You can also get the person's name and call our call center with that information and they can verify whether or not that person is an employee of ours," she said. "Also, no one should feel pressure to sign anything. If someone comes to your door and you are thinking about signing, you can always ask that they leave the paperwork with you. Sometimes people can get blindsided and talked into things easily when someone comes to their door."
Lee Holland posted on the White Lake Patch Facebook page that the company's outreach is not just door-to-door. They have been repeatedly calling him.
“They call every few days...," he said.
Rhonda Gelstein, also of White Lake, said her neighbor was convinced to switch to Direct Energy several days ago because the solicitor promised lower gas prices.
Gelstein said she's concerned that there were several people in her neighborhood who could have easily been tricked into giving over their information.
“He came to our door as well, and said he wanted to make sure we were getting the discount we were entitled to,” she said. “Horror stories abound on the Internet about this service.”
Sales policy investigated
Prior to receiving its license from the state to sell natural gas in 2005, Direct Energy purchased Energy America.
According to a Michigan Attorney General press release from 2002, Energy America was accused of using illegal marketing tactics to sell natural gas door-to-door. The attorney general’s office investigated more than 675 complaints against the company, several of which stated the company forged customer’s signatures on documents to change gas services, and that the salesmen failed to disclose the company for which they worked. More than 130 complaints were filed in 2002 alone, according to the release.
Following the investigation by the state, Energy America suspended its door-to-door marketing in Michigan.
Direct Energy's license states all Energy America customers were switched to Direct Energy in 2005 after the company was issued a license to operate in the state.
According to its license, and because of its history with Energy America, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), would not allow Direct Energy to solicit residential natural gas customers through door-to-door solicitations for 18 months. The company also was prohibited from conducting telemarketing calls during that time period.
How to file a complaint
Gary Kitts, bureau administrator for MPSC, said Direct Energy is still on the agency's radar, and three years ago were investigated for their selling tactics.
The MPSC is responsible for gathering and investigation complaints levied against natural gas companies.
“We reached a settlement with them, and they were supposed to make changes,” Kitts said. “If the company is causing problems we ask that people file complaints so we can follow up.”
To file a complaint you can go to the MPSC website or call 1-800-292-9555.
Monaghan, of Direct Energy, said she also would pass on complaints about the tactics in White Lake to the company's head of sales to make him aware and that they would investigate any individual complaints by customers.
She said that anyone who has a complaint about a Direct Energy representative should call 888-326-8559 Monday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Editor's note: This article was changed to reflect that Direct Energy purchased Energy America prior to receiving its 2005 license to do business.