Michigan Gas Choice – Bad Actors

Now that the weather has gone from half-hearted winter to enthusiastic spring, the utility-rate scammers are crawling out from under the rocks where they pupate over the winter. There were two at our door yesterday, trying to talk us into signing a natural gas supply contract under the so-called Gas Choice Program. They were pushy, insistent, obnoxious, and ignorant. Unfortunately we were not able to get the name of the company.

They started out with, “We are from DTE [the local energy supplier] and we are here to save you money.” Come on! Nobody knocks on your door to “save” you money. From Holy Rollers to city council candidates, they do not knock on your door to save you money.

They asked to see our DTE bill so they could show us how much they could save us. If they were from DTE, why would they not have that information? They were clearly lying about who they worked for. When we told them that we did not intend to show them our utility bill, or anything else, and we wanted them off our porch, they started arguing with us.

I saw the sleazy way these utility re-sellers operate in Ann Arbor, when my daughter was moving into a room in the student ghetto. If you have never been there, moving day is one of those bizarre rituals that take place in college towns. It may be different in other cities, but in Ann Arbor moving day is like a dilapidated furniture carnival. There are recycling sites with dozens of huge dumpsters where volunteers accept all manner of refuse. Meanwhile, whole neighborhoods are swarming with vans and cars with trailers while students and their families empty out an academic year’s accumulation of couches, chairs, futons, beds, tables, electronic and electric appliances, shelving and entertainment units, stolen speed-limit, no-parking, and stop signs, traffic cones and barrels, cooking utensils, rugs, beer pong tables, and exercise and drinking equipment. Butt-sprung couches and wobbly tables are discarded and snapped up at a stunning pace.

In the midst of this chaos, agents from utility re-sellers go around signing up students who have no clue what they are signing and could not care less until the rates inflate. Furthermore, the person who signs the agreement probably is not the person with responsibility for the bill – they just buttonhole anyone they can get to stand still and request a signature. The utility re-seller does not care who signs for a particular house, as long as the signature is under the statement that “the signer is responsible for the utility bill at 1292 Black Street.” That way, they get the house as a customer and the person who actually is responsible for the bill has a miserable time getting out from under the re-seller, if he or she recognizes the switch.

Two of these companies are Volunteer Energy Service Inc. and Santanna Energy Services. Their telemarketers call and say, “May I talk to the person with responsibility for the DTE bill?” They claim to be from DTE, or give that impression. The seldom take that first “no” and insist that they be allowed to show how VolunteerEnergy can save us money. Their websites are replete with “testimonials” and self-serving claims, but lack substance. Volunteer has a page for “Community Support,” but it just says, “coming soon.”

We signed up with one of these companies several years ago and ended up paying more than $100 per month above what we would have paid DTE. When these creeps call, hang up or play games with them, if you have the time. Ask them to wait while you get your mother to the phone. Tell them she is in a wheelchair, so it will take a few minutes. Then ask them to wait while you change the batteries in your mother’s hearing aid. Then keep them waiting as you search for the utility bill.

Keep a hose by the front door for when these pinheads come around. A can of shaving cream would also be good. If they give you a hard time, a pocket full of shaving cream or a nice whipped cream collar on the solicitor’s jacket would help to reinforce the fact that you would rather not be bothered. Good luck with getting rid of them permanently. I have not succeeded so far.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2012 John B. Payne, Attorney