February 5, 2005
"Don’t show your bill," watchdog warns Ontario consumers
Energy Probe, a national consumer and environmental watchdog, is warning consumers to avoid showing their gas and electricity bills to door-to-door representatives of energy marketers.
Utility bills contain confidential customer identification numbers. A customer identification number is the utility equivalent of a credit card number. And a customer information number is what the energy marketer needs to get a utility account switched so that a portion of the customer’s utility payments flow to the marketer. The marketer can only capture business if the customer has no outstanding contract with another marketer. In discussions with marketers and when considering purchasing options, Energy Probe recommends that consumers refer to their bills, particularly to find their consumption volumes, but without showing the bill to the marketer.
In the past, there have been allegations of door-to-door sales agents obtaining access to customer identification numbers, forging the customer’s signature, and locking them into long-term energy deals. Customers trying to get out of unfavorable deals have had to obtain copies of their contracts from energy marketers, which has led to protracted disputes between marketers and their clients.
Energy Probe continues to recommend that customers who can withstand some fluctuation in their electricity bills do not take up electricity offers currently available from Direct Energy, First Source, Ontario Hydro, and Toronto Hydro. Energy Probe estimates that these contracts are 20% to 40% above the current price consumers are paying for the commodity portion of their bills, which Energy Probe estimates to be approximately 4.2 cents/kilowatt hour.