This seems to be the week to receive phone calls from telemarketers.
The first call this week was 2:10 pm Tuesday afternoon. It was a robocall offering electric power discounts for people who qualify. The automated message asked me to have my monthly bill ready and to press "5" to speak with a representative. Previously, I have received both phone calls and visits by door-to-door sales people, Plus, I am aware of several utility scams. I was curious to learn what the latest pitch is, so I pressed "5" to continue the call.
A representative quickly joined the phone call and asked if I had my bill ready. I said yes, but that I needed to know first who I was talking with. The representative said his name was Robert. No last name. Then, I asked for his company's name and phone number. He said his company was "Power Source," and that he was in their call center. He refused to give a phone number (a typical habit of scam artists; especially those calling from outside the country).
Our phone call was off to a bumpy start, and it quickly got worse. I asked Robert for his company's website address. He replied that I could Google the company's name to learn more. Not a very friendly answer. It seemed to me that Robert (probably not his read name) was not going to disclose anything meaningful about Power Source (probably not its real name). Yet, he felt perfectly fine asking me to share details from my utility bill, which I consider highly confidential.
The Power Source name is strikingly similar to EverSource, a real, publicly-traded utility holding company that provides residential energy services in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. EverSource was created when Northeast Utilities merged with NSTAR Electric & Gas. Northeast Utilities included Connecticut Light & Power, Public Service of New Hampshire, Western Massachusetts Electric, and Yankee Gas.
I told Robert that since he was unwilling to share any detailed information, neither was I. He said thank you and hung up.
My online search for "Power Source" did not find a website for a power or electric company named "Power Source." More importantly, this robocall was illegal. Why? The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains:
"You've probably gotten robocalls about candidates running for office, or charities asking for donations. These robocalls are allowed. But if the recording is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. In addition to the phone calls being illegal, their pitch most likely is a scam."
I have no relationship with a company named Power Source, and my home phone is registered in the national Do Not Call Registry. Consumers can report illegal robocalls at the FTC website. I did. So, if you receive a robocall from Power Source, you now know what to do with it.
The second call was 6:15pm Wednesday afternoon. It was a traditional phone call and not a robocall. Again, I asked the caller to identify himself. He said his name was James, who also offered energy discounts for home owners. Again, I asked for his company's name, phone number and website address. He identified his company as Solar Green Energy, but refused to provide a phone number.
Notice a pattern?
During the second call, I went online. A quick search for "Solar Green energy" found a dot-com website with that name. The site was for sale, and it didn't provide any details about the company nor its offerings. James insisted that if I qualified, he'd schedule a representative to visit to fully explain the service. I held firm and told him I wasn't sharing anything until I knew more about who I was talking with. He repeated his request for me to share information from my utility bill, and I hung up.
Afterward, I thought about both phone calls. They weren't really a surprise given huge electricity rate increases recently in Boston:
"... the Bureau of Labor Statistics said electricity prices in Boston were 63 percent higher than the national average in February — well up from last year, when local prices were 29 percent higher. Utilities have blamed insufficient pipeline capacity to supply the region, coupled with high winter demand."
To avoid getting slammed (e.g., your utility service changed without your permission) or being over-charged by a company practicing deceptive marketing, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office advises consumers to:
- Check your monthly utility bills: to make sure that your service has not be switched to a different provider without your consent,
- Protect your sensitive information: do not show your utility bills to door-to-door sales people. Only show your utility bills after you have decided to do business with a provider.
- Be cautious: your current service provider does not send door-to-door sales people.
- Know your rights: do not let door-to-door sales people into your home unless you know them personally. Contact local police if the sales agent refuses to leave or you believe you are threatened.
For me, it's simple. If a caller asks me to disclose my personal information while refusing to fully identify their self, their employer, and the services offered, then I don't do business with them. Period. And, I definitely don't do business with illegal robocallers. I expect telemarketers to clearly and completely explain their discount program, first.
Have you received phone calls from Power Source or Solar Green Energy? If so, please share your experiences below including the date, time, company name, representative's name, and content of your call.