Scam Warning In Wake Of Blackouts
By Andrew Moesel
A New Jersey energy company may be using the Queens blackout as a means to trick residents into giving them their business, misleading Con Ed customers into signing contracts under the false belief that they will receive a discount for losing power.
Kurk Konklin, a Sunnyside resident who lost power for six days in July, said a salesman knocked on his door on Monday and identified himself as, “a supplier for Con Ed.” The man asked to see Konklin’s energy bill, saying that he might qualify for a discount on his electricity.
After hearing community members and politicians request compensation from Con Ed for the 10-day blackout, Konklin said he believed the man was a Con Ed employee interviewing affected customers. When he asked questions about Con Ed, Konklin said the man did nothing to dispel that interpretation.
But when the man asked him to sign some papers, Konklin said he noticed there were no Con Ed logos on the forms. When confronted about it, the man reluctantly admitted that he worked for IDT Energy Inc., a Newark-based company that bundles energy services and sells them at variable rates. The man attempted to convince Konklin that he could still save money on the deal, but left soon afterward.
“They are creating a misconception that they are acting on Con Ed’s behalf,” said Konklin, who works for the New York City Department of Health. “I work with a lot of immigrant populations, and I live in a neighborhood with recent immigrants and elderly people. It would be really easy to get people to sign something thinking they are with Con Ed regarding the blackout.”
Konklin said he saw the salesman knock on several doors within his apartment building. Attempts to contact other residents of the building for comment were unsuccessful.
IDT Energy allows customers to purchase electricity without paying sales tax, often saving customers up to 10 percent on their energy bill. But because their rate is variable, the savings are not guaranteed and sometimes can lead to higher consumer costs.
Energy resellers, as they are called, have emerged prominently in recent years as states begin to deregulate their utilities. Since their business depends on convincing customers to join a somewhat complicated service, industry experts said that aggressive and even unethical sales tactics are often used to obtain new clients.
Ben Popken, the editor of the consumer protection Web site consumerist.com, said he has received several complaints about IDT Energy and similar companies. Some have targeted non-English speaking residents, saying they had to sign with IDT as their energy provider or be fined.
“IDT is a crooked pack of shysters and are hardly unique in their scam,” Popken wrote in an e-mail. “Other resellers employing door-to-door salespeople using underhanded tactics include Direct Energy and U.S. Energy.”
Since January, IDT Energy has had 35 complaints logged against it with the Public Service Commission, which tracks complaints about the reseller companies. That number was the second only to Energy Midwest LLC, which had 54 complaints.
IDT Energy officials did not respond to requests for comment. But the company told NBC news last month that all salesmen are properly trained and wear identification badges.
“This is not a scam, but it is something new to people,” a spokesman said in a statement. “If you don’t want to participate, you can say ‘no, thank you,’ and shut the door.”