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Just Energy Confused Consumers Take Dangerous Gas Gamble

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Published on Mar 24, 2010

Everyone wants to save money on home gas bills and when people hear the name US Energy Savings, it seems to imply they will. The company is the alternative supplier, which means it could charge you whatever they want for gas. Regulated utility such as Peoples Gas can only profit from the delivery fees but CBS 2 Investigates Pam Zekman some customers of US energy savings are getting caught in a gas gamble.

Gas fuel the flame we need for our homes, the amount we use is measure in therms. A term most people are unfamiliar with, much less how much they pay for them.

The teams of US Energy Saving salesman seemed to bank on that as they converge on your neighborhood.

"They told me that I was going to be saving money on my gas bill, which I'm not."

She was paying $0.66 per therm to Peoples Gas now she's lock-in of five years contract at a dollar $1.19 per therm with US Energy Savings.

Her gas bill skyrocket then she was shocked to learn she had to pay $600 to cancel.

Are you angry? Yeah, very angry because I feel like I was

She was one of 700 people who complained to the Citizens Utility Board.

"We seen a lot of confusion, a lot of misleading marketing, a lot of frankly fraud."

For that reason, CUB filed a complaint charging US Energy Savings use deceptive marketing tactics. In 2006, the company settled without admitting any guilt, pay fine and cancel some contracts.

But our investigation found that apparently deceptive sales tactics continue. Since the settlement, The Better Business Bureau has received more than 200 complaints.

In 2006 through 2007, the complaints are up 125% that is alarming.

One of these complaints were filed by Gilbert Ortiz, who says he was tricked into signing this contract by a salesman who said it was partition that was being signed for lower gas prices.

We send our CBS 2 producer undercover to a training class to see what instructors at US Energy Savings teach sale people to say to customers.

She said we tell them that we are protecting their rates over the long haul they'll be saving money.

Not true according to a CUB study. Every single offer they ever made the customers are losing on, an average losses is over $500 a year.

Our undercover producer training class was giving the script, I tell trainees to say that with US Energy Savings your home would not be subject to any of the upcoming price increases.

What price increases, you got to ostentation before you can state that.

When customers question US Energy Savings higher rate, trainees were told to compare a therm to a gallon of gasoline.

They're paying more three dollars for a gallon of gas, a dollar per therm doesn't sound like much does it?

It's horribly misleading, natural gas for heat is a different commodity and gasoline to drive your car.

Trainer Mike Webb brag about his sales abilities. He says I can write somebody who doesn't speak a lick of English.

That's what he did to a retired couple, they signed two contracts which would cost them 30% more than they were paying. Did you understand them? No. Why? Because I can't read, that's why. I don't speak good English.

Why did they sign? They told me that it was a Peoples Gas representative who came and wanted to sign contract to save them money.

How can you predict that they'll save the money or potentially save money? We can't.

This company official says none of the sales materials or tactics we uncover are company approved.

We sell a price protection product we do not guarantee savings.

You're asking people to take a gamble on what the price of gas will be in the future but you don't seem to give them enough information to make an informed decision

I think we can do a better job of that.

For most people it's just a confusing mess, they don't realize what they're signing up for.

Yea, we'll make sure that they do.

He says they're retraining their staff and rewriting their contract to make it clear to customer what they are signing up for an how much it will cost to cancel. Meanwhile, late today the Illinois attorney general office file a lawsuit against US Energy Savings charging it with consumer fraud.

Pam Zekman CBS 2 news

Pam thank you to file a complaint, you can log onto our website @ CBS2Chicago.com for links to agencies that may help just click on special reports.

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