Police: Be on watch for utility scam Universal Gas sales people do not have soliciting license
By Kathleen Conat, Special Writer
PUBLISHED: February 21, 2008
Ypsilanti Police Chief Matt Harshberger is warning Ypsilanti residents to beware of solicitors from Universal Gas & Electric who are going door-to-door in the city. These solicitors do not have the necessary permits and employ deceptive and strong-arm tactics to get people sign up for their alternative gas service.
If residents are contacted by these solicitors, they should contact the Ypsilanti Police Department immediately.
Universal Gas & Electric is an alternative gas supplier that has been operating in the state since 2005. The Michigan Public Service commission recently gave a conditional license as an alternative electric supplier on Jan. 29.
That license was made conditional due to a spike in complaints about pricing promises and business practices regarding their gas sales. The company has now asked the state to rescind that license, as it does not like the conditions put on it, according to Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the MPSC.
The MPSC has opened an investigation into the company's practices, as well.
Sales tactics of Universal Gas, described by Ypsilanti residents and available on several complaint web sites on the Internet, include intimidation and deception. Residents have been asked to sign a form, which the salesperson says is only to let the company know you have been contacted. In reality, that form is a five-year contract. Part of that form may be covered by a blank piece of paper so you cannot read it.
The Universal Gas salespeople become angry when the resident says she is not interested and/or refuses to sign the form or provide information from their DTE Energy bill. Some people have signed merely to get the salesperson away from their door, not realizing they are signing a contract. Salespeople have also lied about the terms of the contract.
Door-to-door solicitors need a permit to solicit within Ypsilanti. Universal Gas never applied for a permit, according to the Ypsilanti City's Clerk's office.
When contacted at the company's Southfield office, a man who gave his name as Steve Mac said because the company is licensed in Michigan, it does not need local permits. MPSC spokeswoman Palnau disagreed, however, saying the license does not in any way supersede local ordinances.
Things you need to know, according to the MPSC:
If you choose to purchase your natural gas from an alternative gas supplier, the gas rate you are charged for natural gas will not be regulated by the MPSC. The rate is set by the company and may be above, as well as below, the rate of state-regulated companies.
There is a 30-day cancellation period after you've signed a contract. You may need to cancel this in writing to the company, so be sure you have an address where this can be sent.
After the 30-day cancellation time, there may be a cancellation fee. Universal Gas & Electric's cancellation fee is $250.
Some contracts are automatically renewed and prices are changed without warning.
The MPSC is taking complaints by telephone at 1-800-292-9555 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Residents who have been approached by Universal Gas salespeople are urged to call to complain, whether or not anything was signed.
Residents may also complain to Universal Gas' Southfield office, at 1-248-594-2345, or their customer service line, 1-877-863-2444. If you choose to complain to the company, MPSC asks that you also call the MPSC complaint number.
Kathleen Conat is a longtime Ypsilanti resident and freelance writer for The Courier. She can be reached through email@example.com.