Glastonbury residents warned about energy scams
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Tue., Feb. 11, 2014
Some Connecticut residents are being scammed by people knocking on their doors, pretending that they represent utility companies and demanding payments for outstanding bills.
Veronica Gomez – program administrator for CL&P and Yankee Gas, specializing in limited-income and senior clients – spoke at the Glastonbury Senior Center on Feb. 6 about what to do if someone suspects they are being scammed, and she offered some other tips on how to save on energy costs.
Gomez said CL&P customer services reps are receiving more phone calls about scammers, and that it is happening all across the state. “They pretend to be from your energy company and threaten to disconnect your power, or heat, or whatever it may be, if you don't write a check to them at that time,” she said, adding that seniors are among those who are being targeted, because they are considered more vulnerable and more easily scared.
Even diligent people may second-guess themselves and feel like they need to pay, and fall for the scam. “Don't second-guess yourself,” she said. “No one knows better than you if you paid your bill or not.”
Gomez said utilities never collect monies in person, and that residents should always ask for identification. They can always call the company to verify a person's identity, as well.
“Never let them in your house, ever,” she said. “If they don't leave, call 911.”
A similar method is good for people who may be approached via a phone call. “If someone calls you [about paying a utility bill], hang up the phone, call CL&P and say you just received a phone call and ask them if someone from there just called you.”
Gomez said that some people are confused about the recent de-regulation, which allows them to choose alternate suppliers of electricity in order to save money or alter other specifics of their services. CL&P still distributes most of the electricity in the state, but gets that energy through different suppliers.
One of the common problems is customers getting locked into a contract at a certain rate, but then wanting to get out of it. Suppliers' rates can be found at www.energizect.com.
“If the rate fluctuates, and if you break the contract, there is a fee to break it,” she said, presenting an example. “Now instead of paying $100 a month, I'm paying $300 because I'm stuck in this contract.” Gomez said that once in a contract, it's difficult-to-impossible to get out, but that using the website or calling 1-877-WISE-USE (1-877-947-3873), is the best preventative measure, because it offers comparisons and information needed to make a better, more-informed decision before entering into a new energy contract.
Gomez said her job is to help people understand that there are programs to help them if they are having problems paying their bills and/or having arrearages. “People may not know that there is energy assistance available to them,” Gomez said, adding that people who need help should go through their town's social services first.
CL&P, Yankee Gas and other utilities in the state all take part in the Winter Protection Program, which helps qualified residents keep the heat on from Nov. 1 to May 15. “If you call and say that you are having problems and cannot pay your bill, they will not disconnect you, if you qualify,” she said, adding that the customer should pay what they can during that time, so as to not have a large balance at the end of that moratorium.
Gomez also offered several energy efficiency tips. Hot water, she said, is the biggest way energy gets wasted. She recommends washing clothes in cold water (with an all-temperature soap) because it works just as well as using warm or hot water.
Also, dryer loads should be done consecutively, in order to take advantage of reserve heat, which is heat already in the dryer, so it doesn't have to expend energy to warm up again.
A refrigerator is also a big place for energy loss. Checking the door seal is one way to stay ahead. Gomez recommends putting a piece of paper in the door seal and then shutting it. “If you can pull it out very quickly, that means you need to replace that seal.
Gomez recommends energy audits, which are available to homeowners through the utility company at no charge for residents who qualify and at a modest fee of $75 for others, as being well worth the investment.