Target 11 investigates unauthorized switching of electricity providers

NORTH HUNTINGDON, Pa. — Nearly 200 people who live in Pennsylvania have had their electricity provider changed without their consent.

Target 11 investigator Rick Earle discovered this after interviewing a North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County homeowner who claimed his provider was switched without his authorization. He recently found out about the change after receiving a letter advising him of a rate increase.

“I got a letter in the mail and on the front of the letter it said important account information,” said Rob Mihalchik.

Mihalchik immediately reached out to the company, Green Mountain Energy.

He said the company told him that an application was filled out in 2018 at a movie theater in Homestead. Mihalchik said his 17-year-old daughter filled out what she thought was an energy survey and in exchange received a gift card. He said his daughter was not authorized to switch providers.

“Two people approached (her) in the theater. They said for filling out this quick three-question survey, we’ll give you a $10 gift card,” he said.

After discovering the change in January of this year, Mihalchik filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and  he immediately switched providers.

Mihalchik said during the period in question, he paid Green Mountain more than $2,300.  Green Mountain offered to return $871.77.

A spokesperson for Green Mountain said that’s how much more Mihalchik paid them than he would have paid his previous supplier during the same 20-month period.

“$870 is a far cry from $2,300. Yeah, especially when I, the homeowner, didn’t sign for this. You know, you took the word (of) a 17-year-old girl going with her friends to a movie theater and that’s who you base this upon,” Mihalchik said.

>>OFFICIAL PA PUC SITE FOR SHOPPING FOR NATURAL GAS

Target 11 discovered that Mihalchik isn’t alone.

According to a proposed settlement agreement obtained by Target 11, the Public Utility Commission received six similar complaints in 2018 involving NRG, the parent company of Green Mountain Energy.

Court documents contend that NRG agents enrolled 196 customers without authorization. The company fired the agents involved and implemented tighter controls, according to the settlement.

NRG also agreed to pay $175,000 fine and refund customers for the first two billing periods in question.

Target 11 reached out to NRG.

“NRG is committed to complying with all PUC rules and regulations. The informal inquiry was prompted when NRG self-reported issues it discovered through researching a handful of customer complaints. NRG determined that some of its agents acted improperly, made inadvertent processing errors, or enrolled people who attested to being authorized to enroll the account, but actually weren’t the account holder. We look forward to putting this matter behind us so we can focus on creating value for and serving our customers,” an NRG spokesman told Target 11.

The Public Utility Commission said Mihalchik’s complaint is a separate and open investigation.

Green Mountain sent this response to Target 11.

“Customer satisfaction is an absolute priority for Green Mountain Energy. Furthermore, we only enroll customers who represent themselves as authorized to make decisions for the account in question. When Mr. Mihalchik contacted us with his complaint, we conducted a thorough review of his case, even though it has been more than year since the enrollment. While our investigation could not determine conclusively what occurred in this transaction, we offered Mr. Mihalchik the difference in charges for the time served and Green Mountain will continue to attempt to resolve his concerns,” said a spokesperson for Green Mountain Energy.

Mihalchik told Target 11 he had no idea about the other customers who had been switched, and he’s glad it’s now out in the open.

“Had I not opened that letter I wouldn’t have known. Had you not looked into a little bit further, I still wouldn’t have known unless the PUC comes back to me and says hey this is what we found out and there’s more of you than meets the eye. So, it’s nice that now more people are going to know about this,” he said.

The PUC sent Channel 11 an in-depth email outlining the steps you should take to make sure you aren’t switched without your consent.

“First, if someone believes they’ve been switch to a supplier without their consent, we encourage them to file a complaint with the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services as soon as possible. That provides our team with the information necessary for an investigation and/or enforcement action and can put the brakes on any unauthorized switch.

“Additionally, every monthly energy bill includes information about your local utility (which gets the energy to your house via poles, wires, pipelines, etc.), along with the supplier who is currently providing your electricity or natural gas. So, consumers can double check their bills every month and/or confirm that information via their utility’s online system to regularly double check their current supplier and price.

“And, every competitive supplier in Pennsylvania is required to send consumers notices and disclosure information when they switch, to explain the terms of the agreement - and before their contract ends (60 days before the end of the contract and 45 days before the end of the contract), to explain what happens and consumer options when the current contract ends.  So, keep an eye on your mail for both your bills and any notices.

Finally, if you have a suspicious encounter with an energy marketer and you’re worried that you may have been switched, you can call your utility to confirm the status of your account and/or make it clear that you didn’t want to switch (in addition to filing a complaint with the PUC),” said a spokesman for the Pennsylvania PUC.

You can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania PUC by going to their website.