Deception bundled in contracts sold door-to-door

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I've been deluged with complaints about misleading sales of energy contracts.

Here are stories of consumers I've helped that show door-to-door sellers going after people living in low-income housing or in short-term rental accommodations.

Paraniga Rajeswaran lives in Regent Park, a subsidized housing development in Toronto. Electricity is included in his rent, but not gas.

A Summitt Energy agent came to his door, asking to see his gas bills and saying he could offer a lower price of $12.99 a month.

Rajeswaran agreed to enrol.

He didn't realize that he was buying Summitt's EverGreen program of carbon-offset credits to reduce his emissions.

"Now my bill is higher than it should have been.

"My family is low-income and definitely cannot afford that extra burden on our budget for the next five years," he said.

Gaetana Girardi, compliance director for Summitt Energy, agreed to cancel the environmental plan without penalty after I brought the case to her attention.

Cindy Vance acts as trustee for a mentally challenged daughter-in-law, who lives on an Ontario disability pension.

She did not know – until the collection letters started coming – that her daughter-in-law had signed multiple energy contracts at her door.

Universal Energy had sold her gas and electricity in 2007.

That didn't stop another UE agent from making another sales pitch this spring.

He told her he was from the local utility and needed to see her bills to be sure she was receiving the proper credits, Vance says.

He said if she combined her gas and electricity with a new program, she could save money. And she would receive $50 in rebate cheques as a signing bonus.

In fact, the daughter-in-law had agreed to a higher rate for her energy.

Before long, she was in arrears and facing a disconnection notice from the utility.

Universal agreed to let her out after getting proof that she was on an Ontario disability pension.

Then, Direct Energy tried to collect $800 on another contract she had signed. I asked for her release since she was already with a competitor when she enrolled.

"We've cancelled the contract, waived associated fees, removed her account from collections and apologized for the frustration this has caused," said DE spokeswoman Lisa Dornan.

Ben Altman was living in a rented townhouse with his girlfriend when a Universal Energy salesperson came to his door last April.

"I said my lease was ending in June and we were about to move away," he says.

"But the sales rep said it didn't matter and not to worry about it."

After signing, he received the required reaffirmation call while he was at work (against his instructions) and stepped out of a meeting to take it.

He says UE failed to give him a contract that showed the terms and conditions and failed to notify him of termination penalties.

Spokeswoman Vanessa Anesetti said his electricity contract would be cancelled since the supply had not yet started.

But his natural gas contract was deemed to be valid.

"If the consumer agrees to transfer the contract to the new residence, the termination charge will not apply," she said.

Since Altman wanted to get out, Universal agreed to a lower cancellation fee as a goodwill gesture.

Ontario should never have allowed door-to-door energy sales without enacting strong safeguards against deception.

Let's hope the government brings in new rules this fall, as promised, to end the exploitation of vulnerable people.


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