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

No Comment on "Michigan Gas Choice – Bad Actors"

  • On behalf of VolunteerEnergy, I just want to clarify a few items that appeared in your blog post. First off, throwing all gas suppliers into the same gas marketing box is like throwing all fast food restaurants into the same junk food box, when in fact there are some good companies out there offering customers some really good products. VolunteerEnergy has worked hard to build a company built on integrity and trust, offering customers low, competitive natural gas rates.

    In Michigan, Volunteer Energy has built a strong agent base to sell natural gas, primarily to business customers. Our agents are well-trained through our Michigan regional office, and that training does include strict instruction regarding sales calls and prospect contact. The Volunteer Energy agent manual clearly states:

    “Working as an agent for VolunteerEnergy carries with it a responsibility to abide by strict rules of customer communication. As has been discussed, the energy industry has certain safeguards in place to protect consumers and business owners from unscrupulous sales and marketing tactics. At VolunteerEnergy, we do not tolerate violations of our company Code of Conduct, so we want you to read this section very carefully.

    Never slam a customer. Slamming involves switching a customer without their clear consent.
    Slamming violations include:
    Misrepresenting yourself
    Lying to a customer about the product or the company you represent
    Forgery (a criminal offense that will be prosecuted)
    Allowing an unauthorized person to sign the enrollment form

    Never tell a customer that you are with the utility or another provider.
    Introduce yourself properly: as “an Independent Agent with VolunteerEnergy, an alternative energy supplier for natural gas.”

    Never allow a customer to think that you are with the utility or another provider.
    If a customer is confused and is under the mistaken belief that you are with the utility or another provider, it is your responsibility to correct the situation. Do not let a customer enroll with VolunteerEnergy if they have any doubt about who you represent or what product you are selling.

    Never tell a customer, or allow them to believe that they have to switch to VolunteerEnergy to continue to receive natural gas.

    Never use the word “guarantee” or “guaranteed savings” unless the VolunteerEnergy product being offered is actually a guaranteed savings product. “

    If VolunteerEnergy agents (or sales persons hired by agents), are not adhering to our company’s code of conduct (as stated above), we want to know about it, and would appreciate your reporting incidents of unethical sales tactics to us directly. Now, I must state, that any “Sales 101” course would applaud a telemarketing rep for not ending the call after the first “no”, but wanting to explain how the company could save them money. In sales, that’s called persistence, not unethical. On your other point, we are continually adding material and updating our website. If it is lacking specific information that you would like to see, please let us know! We recognize that the web is an important tool for today’s consumer and we would like to provide the best information we can.

    You did not mention which competitor charged you $100 per month above the DTE utility rate. You should have been on VolunteerEnergy’s new Guaranteed Savings Rate Plan! Volunteer Energy has a history in Michigan of offering rates below the utility and now offers residential customers a choice of three plans: a Guaranteed Savings Plan, a low fixed rate plan and our monthly variable rate plan. We’re just giving customers the chance to choose the best rate plan to serve their needs! Visit VolunteerEnergy at VolunteerEnergy.com.

    • You have had your say. Here is my position: I do not care whether your rates are lower. I just want to stop getting calls from energy resellers — especially when the caller tries to give the impression that they are calling from my supplier. When they call, they ask to speak to the person who handles the DTE bill. The first few times, I had to play “20 questions” with the caller before I got the information that they were not from DTE and that it was a sales call. Now, as soon as I hear, “May I speak to the person who handles the DTE bill,” I tell them to put me on their “do not call” list. It never works, though.

      I was meeting with clients at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 14, 2012, when I received a call from 734 355 5350. Not recognizing the number, I ignored it. However, the caller rang me again at 4:03 and 4:06. Since it appeared that the caller would not be giving up, I asked my clients to give me a minute to find out what was so urgent.

      When I answered, someone claiming to be a regional something or other at Volunteer Energy Services started telling me that Volunteer Energy Services was not pleased with my last blog entry and threatened legal action. I told the fellow that I was not interested in talking to his company and did not want any more calls from them.

      I did not make note of the person’s name, but when I called the number today it was answered by someone claiming to be with Volunteer Energy Services. I was informed that 734 355 5350 is the number for Shawn Hall and he is a regional something or other. So, if I have any further trouble from Volunteer Energy Services, I guess I have someone to call.

  • Our apologies, John! Though we cannot speak for other natural gas supply companies, we are forwarding your Michigan & Pittsburgh office numbers to the agent in Michigan who utilizes telemarketing sales with instructions to remove both numbers from any call lists.

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  • I deal with these companies the same way every time. Look up the officers of the company, find their home phone numbers and inform the telemarketer that you will call the officers at home in the middle of the night if you receive another call. Works every time.

  • I just had a Satana energy person show up at my door trying to sell me on cheaper gas. I said no because I wanted to find out more about what he was talking about before signing anything. He acted as if I was foolish for turning him away. That right there makes me suspicious.

  • Jonathan Miller

    Just like most people you’re too narrow minded to understand what the purpose of the gas choice program is. If people were better educated on it,these sales people wouldn’t need to use these tactics just to make a living. And this includes the utility, I’ve called a few times regarding the program and gotten several conflicting answers.

    • Narrow-minded, My Good Man? I guess I’m so narrow-minded that I do not even see a point to what you are saying. Is it that if people were better educated, the off-brand energy re-sellers would not have to browbeat and hoodwink them into signing up. Do you work for one of these companies?

  • Jonathan Miller

    The lack of education allows these people to do that to people. Fyi, utility companies in michigan are resellers, listen to the ads on the radio, they purchase their gas on the open market for their customers. Who do you think they buy it from? Suppliers, the same people coming to your door. The only difference between a supplier and the utility rate is the supplier generally offers a fixed rate and the utility simply cannot. The utility charge reflects what they buy it for. Simple supply and demand just means it makes sense for someone to have a fixed rate. Do you have a variable payment for your home? No, that would be dumb. And no i don’t work for one of these companies but i have chosen one to be my supplier after educating myself on the program and i am a very happy customer especially since I’m currently paying much less than those who have remained on the utility variable rate.


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