“Robocalls” to people’s homes appear to be expanding into the subject of natural gas choices and ignoring federal Do Not Call rules.
The frequent calls — some received daily, according to reports — are offering help for people in lowering gas bills. A recording I heard said something about recent legislative rules being the reason that natural gas prices have dropped. A reader said he heard, “If you are a Dominion customer, you can save up to 10 percent on your bills.”
When pushing the button to find out what company was calling, he was told Dominion, but the caller said she also represented 30 other companies that sell gas. When she asked if he had a provider (he did and was under a community aggregation), she said she couldn’t help him and hung up.
When I inquired politely about the company and its rates, my caller hung up on me. This was after I had to hold for about five minutes for the next representative after they called me. If I didn’t want to find out the information about who the caller was for my job, I wouldn’t have bothered to stay on the line for a call that phoned me.
These calls certainly raise concerns. Not only is it annoying to get a sales call at home, it’s even more offensive when the company won’t identify itself and is persistently making calls. I wouldn’t want to do business with any company whose business practices are like this.
Even Dominion officials and employees have gotten the phone calls at their homes.
The calls aren’t coming from Dominion and no one knows who is calling.
I tried to call two of the phone numbers that came up on Caller ID for my call and a reader’s call. The first time I tried a 440 area code number, it didn’t identify the company and said if I wanted to add my number to their Do Not Call list, to leave my number. This week, when I tried to call that same number as well as the 740 area code number that called my home, the numbers were not active. The suspicion is whoever is calling might be “spoofing” or essentially hijacking another number (sometimes real and sometimes not) to place on the Caller ID screen.
Officials at Dominion and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio confirmed that they have been getting an increased number of complaints. They say they don’t know who the calls are coming from. Both have contacted the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for an investigation.
“Since we’re having problems identifying the actual company making the calls, there’s not much enforcement we can do until we identify who the caller is or on behalf of whom,” PUCO spokesman Jason Gilham said.
Dominion East Ohio spokesman Neil Durbin and Dan Donovan, representing Dominion’s subsidiary Dominion Energy Solutions (which does market gas competitively), confirmed that the robocalls are not coming from their companies.
“We are aware of these robocalls that are reaching not only Dominion East Ohio customers, but noncustomers as well. Dominion East Ohio attorneys are working with the state attorney general’s office. The PUCO staff is also interested in these calls, but they do not have much recourse unless the customer is slammed on gas supply,” Durbin said.
Slamming refers to the practice of being switched to a utility or company without your permission.
“Dominion East Ohio does not advise customers to release their account numbers unless they are presented with an offer from a supplier and wish to accept it,” Durbin said.
Callers do not go into any detail unless you provide your account number.
Attorney general spokeswoman Kate Hanson said, “Unfortunately, scammers generally don’t respond to complaints, and it’s very difficult to trace a call when the phone number is ‘spoofed.’ Also, while complaints could lead to an investigation, by law, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section cannot confirm or deny investigations.”
Hanson said consumers should include as much information as possible in their complaints to their office at 800-282-0515.
“By pressing a number, even to ‘opt out,’ consumers verify that their phone number is active, which could lead to even more calls,” she said.
These calls are a good reminder to beware of any sales calls or offers regarding natural gas and electricity. Just because a company calls or mails an offer, that does not mean it is offering you the best price in the market.
As a reminder, I still recommend the Standard Choice Offer (SCO) through an approved provider following a state-approved formula assigned by Dominion East Ohio. The SCO is a monthly variable rate and is at 4.75 per thousand cubic feet (mcf). While there are some marketers who offer their own variable rate and some might beat the SCO in a given month, none are marketing any rates intended to guarantee a savings below the SCO. They don’t share the formulas they use in determining their rate, so there’s no guarantee they will. Since natural gas prices still remain low due to bigger supplies, the marketer’s fixed prices also don’t seem as competitive.
Electricity offers require research by looking at the “Price to Compare” on the message portion of your Ohio Edison bill. This will be the price your household will need to beat based on your usage to save money. You can see all of the offers for natural gas and electricity at the PUCO’s website, www.puco.ohio.gov. It’s called the Apples to Apples chart. Or call the PUCO at 800-686-7826 and request one be sent to you.
Dominion East Ohio does not call or visit customers door to door to sell gas, Durbin said. Its subsidiary, Dominion Energy Solutions, also does not go door to door, Donovan said, but there have been some times when it makes phone calls.
The PUCO and Dominion suggest that consumers who don’t want telemarketing calls sign up for the federal Do Not Call list at 888-382-1222.
They acknowledge that many of the robocalls people have been getting for various products are in violation of the list. The Federal Trade Commission has a campaign against robocalls and you can complain at 877-382-4357.
The Do Not Call list still allows certain calls on behalf of charities, political calls and calls from companies you have previously done business with. You can always tell those individual companies to put you on their internal Do Not Call list.
If a customer is switched to a new gas company, a confirmation letter comes from Dominion. You will have seven days from the time of receiving the letter to tell Dominion whether you wanted that switch, so that gives you a chance to cancel if that was not your intention.
If it turns out you were switched without your permission and you believe it was from these gas robocalls, the information in the letter would be helpful to Dominion, the PUCO and the attorney general in an attempt to identify the company.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.