Is selling energy door-to-door a scam?

Kate Ryan, wtop.com

SILVER SPRING, Md. – When two salespeople came to her door offering to sell her energy, and a Silver Spring resident wondered, ‘Are these people for real?’

A transplant from the West Coast, she’d never heard of “selling” energy. She became skeptical when she asked for a brochure or a card so she could think it over. Neither of the solicitors had any materials, not even a business card. But one gave her the hard sell, insisting that to get a good rate, she should sign up for a contract right away.

WTOP contacted the Maryland Public Service Commission, the body that regulates the energy industry, to find out more about energy suppliers and how they operate.

Obi Linton, director of the Office of External Relations at the PSC, says people can buy electricity from suppliers instead of the big utilities.

Under deregulation, suppliers can offer contracts that could beat the prices of the utilities, but Linton says suppliers must register with the PSC.

Linton says homeowners who sign contracts energy suppliers have three business days to change their minds. The PSC will investigate any reported complaints about suppliers.

There are no regulations on what suppliers must give you in terms of identification or information about their companies, but Linton says suppliers should know their registration numbers.

If they seem mystified, that may raise a red flag for consumers.

Paula Carmody, with the Maryland Office of the People’s Counsel, says if someone comes to the door without identification, doesn’t have literature about what he’s trying to sell and pulls the act fast routine, that should raise multiple red flags..

“I’d close the door,” she tells WTOP.

The OPC has a list of consumer publications and information on buying energy from retail suppliers.

Another thing consumers should know: While the PSC does require suppliers to register, it doesn’t regulate the prices that suppliers offer.

Consumers who decide to go with an energy supplier should make sure they’ve done their homework, and should make certain they understand the terms of any contract signed, Linton says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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