Here are consumer updates on a variety of topics:
At the end of summer or early in the fall, I take a look at offers from marketers and decide what is the best price for the next year.
But this year unless something changes, I don’t see a need to compare offers.
Everyone should be on what is called the Standard Choice Offer (SCO), the monthly variable price provided by a supplier selected by Dominion East Ohio.
The price is set by a state-approved formula. Wholesale prices are at historical lows and expected to remain low.
While the SCO price as of July 11 inched up 34 cents to $3.37 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) from $3.03/mcf, the SCO prices are still much lower than any fixed rate or variable rate offers from marketers.
It’s understood that a variable rate can have ups and downs. We’ve certainly had a lot of months where the prices continued to drop — even to historic 20-year-lows — so I am not too concerned about a slight move upward.
Jeff Murphy, Dominion East Ohio managing director of commercial operations, said prices have risen somewhat because of hot weather and electrical power generation as more utilities are decommissioning coal plants.
“Even with those increases in demand, the response to price has been somewhat muted,” Murphy said.
If you take a look at the PUCO’s comparative Apples to Apples chart, you will see a few monthly variable prices that look like they are below the newest SCO price. Most likely, once you call those provider, you will find out that their price has not been updated for this month and still reflects the monthly variable for June. That would be in line with the $3.03/mcf we were paying last month.
I have not seen any marketers with rates guaranteed to beat the SCO price. I would welcome that. There was one marketer that had part of its aggregation rate determined by a complex mathematical formula based on wholesale prices. It wasn’t enticing enough. I would encourage marketers to keep their offers simple for people to understand.
If you haven’t switched to the SCO, check your bill and see how much you are paying. Some people are at $5 to $6/mcf. Find out how much time is left on your contract and if there is a cancellation fee. Some fees can be hefty, which is why I was always leery of choosing companies that had a high fee. But you will save money even after taking the cancellation fee hit with the SCO.
The average household uses about 100 mcf a year on gas. So take the difference between the prices and multiply by 100 to see the savings.
To switch to the SCO, call Dominion at 800-362-7557. Tell them you want to cancel your current provider and switch. You have to ask for the SCO, or Dominion will move you to what’s called the Monthly Variable Rate (MVR) by the third month instead of the SCO, and that is whatever price the provider wants to charge you and not the state-approved formula.
It will take up to two billing cycles for you to see the switch, first to what is called an “SSO” (which is the same price as the SCO). Then by the third month, you should see “SCO” on your bill with a provider’s name. If you see “MVR,” call Dominion to see if something is wrong.
A national consumer scam that first surfaced in the area last month has a new local twist.
There is no special federal program from President Barack Obama to pay your utility bills. Another version of the scam says the president will pay $1,000 of your credit-card bills.
Scammers are preying on people who give financial information in exchange for the promise of some money.
Never give out financial information such as bank routing numbers and Social Security numbers.
The strange local twist is that the Better Business Bureau is reporting that scammers are saying Obama is offering the money after learning of the passing of Ann Harris, owner of Ann’s Place. Harris died a few hours after the president stopped to have breakfast in Akron recently.
In some cases, victims are given phony bank account and routing numbers to use when paying their bills online, but only after “registering” their Social Security numbers and other personal information.
Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission launched a new website to try to combat “robocalls,” or automated phone calls that come into homes. The biggest complaints have been about the so-called “Rachel” calls or others from something called “Card Services” about ways to reduce credit-card debt.
“The FTC hears from American consumers every day about illegal robocalls and how intrusive they are,” said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. “We’re ratcheting up our efforts to stop this invasion of consumers’ privacy.”
Nearly all telemarketing robocalls have been illegal since Sept. 1, 2009, according to the FTC. The only legal sales robocalls are ones that consumers have stated in writing they want to receive. To date, the FTC has brought 85 enforcement cases and violators have paid $41 million in penalties.
The FTC has a website, www.ftc.gov/robocalls, with information and videos.
Here are FTC suggestions on this topic, with some of my own commentary included:
(1) Hang up. Do not press 1 or any other numbers to get off the list. (Pressing a number or talking to someone verifies you are at a working number.)
(2) Consider blocking the number. (This most likely will cost you and often the illegal scammers are constantly changing their numbers.)
(3) Report it to the FTC.
The FTC will answer questions about robocalls on Twitter and Facebook at 1 p.m. Tuesday. The Twitter handle is @FTC and questions can be sent to #FTCrobo.