Salespeople going door-to-door trying to sign up homeowners to long-term fixed-priced contracts for natural gas are nothing new for Marlies Greulich, but the one who came knocking on the door of her Burden Street home Monday night was decidedly less-than upfront in her opinion.
Instead of wearing a business suit like most of the ones she has dealt with before, Greulich said this one was dressed in a hard hat, a yellow and orange jacket, jeans and work boots, making him look more like a utility worker than a sales rep.
He then launched into an "aggressive" pitch that left Greulich both confused and leery. Alarm bells included only a vague reference that he was working for a marketer, a refusal to give her a copy of the pamphlet outlining the deal he was offering and the late time he came knocking, sometime after 8:30 p.m.
At first, she was under the impression he was working for Fortis, the regulated utility that delivers natural gas to homes hooked up to the service, but Greulich eventually determined he was working for Access Gas Services Inc.
However, she forgot to take his name before turning him away.
"He kept sidetracking me," Greulich said. "The more I asked him questions, the faster he started talking."
Kristine Bienert, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates the price natural gas utilities charge for the fuel and the business practices of natural gas marketers, said Greulich's story raises concerns because sales reps need to clearly identify themselves.
"This is the first time I've heard of someone coming in a costume," Bienert said. "This is really disturbing to me because I can see why someone would think it was important, based on the what the attire of the individual was."
But she added a complaint must be filed before BCUC can investigate and take action if needed.
Bienert advised homeowners to "always, always" get the sale rep's name, company and identification number, "and if anything seems unusual or they won't provide that information, they should turn them away because all of these individuals are required to carry ID."
If a homeowner does sign onto a long-term deal, she also said a third party must follow up in the next day and verify the signee was not coerced. There is also a 10-day period in which the customer can reconsider and opt out of the contract.
Since regulations concerning natural gas marketers were tightened in 2008, BCUC has received progressively fewer complaints, Bienert said. In the last fiscal year, 92 complaints were lodged, down from 129 the year before.
Access Gas is among 10 marketers registered with BCUC. Most households hooked up to natural gas buy the fuel through Fortis but that means they are subject to short-term fluctuations in its price. Natural gas marketers allow customers to sign onto longer-term fixed-price contracts which can lead to lower bills, although there is also a risk they be stuck paying a higher-than-market rate.
Greulich said she has since got in touch with Access Gas vice president Tom Dixon who told her the company calls back within a day of a contract being signed to make sure the customer knows what he had agreed to.
"He was very apologetic," she said. "He took down my house number, he said he could track whoever was in the area and he said that if the gentleman said he was representing Fortis, we have to definitely do some remedies.
"It's just that he [the sales rep] was going to sell me a long-term contract and that's what he never admitting to."
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