By Samantha Vercellino
Ever since her grandmother fell ill, Cheryl took over the responsibility of paying her utility bills. Handling her affairs never troubled Cheryl until the 97-year old racked up $1,200 in electric and gas charges with the alternative supplier Spark Energy.
Concerned her grandmother signed up with Spark unknowingly, Cheryl phoned Consumer Rights Associate Annette Evans for help. She explained her grandmother was “not competent to make her own decisions,” and thus unable to make the switch herself.
After speaking with the victim’s guardian, Annette asked Spark to immediately investigate the charges.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the investigation showed that the enrollment with Spark was not authorized by Cheryl or her grandmother— but by the caretaker.
“One only needs to be over the age of 18 and state he or she has the authority to speak on behalf of the account to sign up,” Annette said. “So be careful who you allow to access your bills.”
Cheryl’s grandmother got automatically kicked onto variable rates—rates that change monthly—after the initial contract expired. (At one point, the consumer was paying a whopping $1.25 per therm for gas!)
With Annette’s help, Cheryl proved that the caretaker did not have the authority to switch her grandmother’s account—and received $1,286 back from the alternative supplier.
“Protect yourself by never giving out your personal information over the phone,” Annette said. “Especially to anyone you don’t know.”
If you have questions regarding your utility, phone or cable service, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline like Cheryl did, at 1-800-669-5556, for guidance on your rights.