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PSC Staff Recommend $100,000 Fine Against Retail Energy Supplier

OPC: E-TPV Process Is Integrally Related To Consumer Complaints

February 14, 2020

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Copyright 2010-20
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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Staff of the Maryland PSC have recommended that the Commission impose a civil penalty in the amount of $100,000 on U.S. Gas & Electric d/b/a Maryland Gas & Electric and Energy Services Providers, Inc. d/b/a Maryland Gas & Electric (collectively "MDG&E" or the "Company") for 17 alleged instances of slamming

As first reported by, Staff had previously filed complaints against MDG&E concerning the alleged behavior, but had not previously recommended a specific penalty

In testimony, a witness for Staff alleged 17 claims of slamming by MDG&E

Staff alleged that the slamming reflects enrollments under which the "authorization" was provided by persons other than the customer, and instances in which valid consent can not be given due to alleged misrepresentations.

Staff alleged, "In nine instances, the third party verification ('TPV') contained just initials. It seems an unlikely coincidence that so many slamming complaints would include TPVs with only initials. Further, this occurred even though CAD's [Consumer Affairs Division] responses to MDG&E repeatedly stated that initials are not a valid signature? Additionally, two of the TPVs for the complaints ... were signed with an indecipherable mark or line."

Staff alleged, "In ten instances where an email address was provided in the CAD complaint, it did not match the email address found in the TPV. In one instance, the email address on the TPV appears to be a clear falsification[.]"

Staff alleged, "In one instance, the name on the TPV did not match the customer's name."

Staff alleged, "With regards to CAD Complaint 118335790, the customer complained that she never authorized MDG&E to enroll her account, but that her Baltimore Gas and Electric Company ('BGE') account number had been given to a solicitor in order to obtain a free cell phone."

Staff alleged that a complainant, "claims a salesperson came to his home and stated due to a recent gas leak he had been dispatched to examine his WGL and Pepco accounts for possible overbilling. He claims the representative stated that MDG&E was an affiliate of WGL and Pepco Using the customer's daughter's email, he filled out a form on his tablet without allowing the customer to see it. He had the customer sign a box on the tablet without giving the customer the opportunity to review the 'agreement,' telling him he would get a copy by the daughter's email."

Staff alleged that, "With regards to CAD Complaint 818340181, a customer filed a complaint stating that representatives from MDG&E came to her apartment and asked to see her utility bill stating they were Maryland State employees. She said they stated three times they worked for the State of Maryland."

Staff said that, "The statements by sales representatives here do not seem to be the result of a company mandated script. However, the Company is responsible for the actions of its agents."

Staff recommended a civil penalty in the amount of $100,000

Contrasting the recommended amount with another recent supplier complaint case, a witness for Staff said that, "While I believe MDG&E has slammed certain customers, the Company appears to have consistently provided contract summaries, and generally not enrolled customers without a valid contract. Additionally, while I do believe MDG&E agents have engaged in deceptive solicitations, I believe these actions show far less of a pattern that [sic] those of Smart One."

Separately, the Office of People's Counsel also submitted testimony in which OPC said that Maryland Gas & Electric's (MGE) E-TPV process, "is integrally related to consumer complaints."

A witness for OPC described the E-TPV process as follows, " MGE provides tablet computers for sales agents to use in door-to-door solicitations, which are enabled with mobile broadband connections that agents use to submit customer information for enrollment through an electronic third-party verification system that MGE calls E-TPV."

"Consumers initiate the E-TPV process, after the sales agent has left, by clicking on a link that is embedded in a message that MGE sends to either an email address or to a phone number (as an SMS text message). After consumers click the link, they then are shown a summary of their information (e.g., name, address, phone number, utility choice ID), information about the MGE products and prices chosen, and 16 separate questions with checkboxes displayed in 'yes' and 'no' columns. At the end of the questions, there is a field for an electronic signature," OPC said

OPC's witness alleged that under E-TPV, "based upon my review of CAD consumer complaints, MGE’s sales agents use invalid email addresses to enroll consumers without their consent."

OPC's witness alleged that based on a review of CAD consumer complaints, the verification by MGE of consumers’ phone numbers under E-TPV, "appears to occur only after-the-fact, when consumers submit complaints to the Commission. It does not appear to be standard before-the-fact practice."

Citing an MGE data response concerning the E-TPV process, OPC alleges, "there is nothing in this protocol indicating that MGE confirms the accuracy of the telephone numbers and so there is no apparent measure to prevent sales agents from entering telephone numbers of their choosing for the text link."

OPC alleged that, "consumers assert that the phone number that appears on the E-TPV form is not their phone number."

OPC alleged that, "The many complaints regarding slamming demonstrate that the E-TPV clearly does not prevent unauthorized enrollments."

OPC said that MGE has changed the E-TPV such that sales agents no longer send consumers an e-mail link; the E-TPV now occurs solely through text messaging.

OPC said that, "Setting aside its insufficient mode of verifying consumers’ enrollment, consumers now must read and review the E-TPV form on an even smaller screen, a cell phone screen, making it that much harder for consumers to read the questions."

Turning to other allegations, OPC alleged that a postcard used by MGE to qualify for an exemption of the wet signature requirement for telephonic sales does not meet the standard under law.

As previously reported, the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act provides that a wet signature requirement does not apply to a sale, "In which the consumer purchases goods or services pursuant to an examination of a television, radio, or print advertisement or a sample, brochure, catalogue, or other mailing material of the merchant that contains: (i) The name, address, and telephone number of the merchant; (ii) A description of the goods or services being sold;  and (iii) Any limitations or restrictions that apply to the offer."

OPC alleged that a postcard mailing used by MGE to avail itself of this exemption, "could not possibly include a complete and comprehensive description of the services being sold, let alone the applicable limitations and restrictions."

OPC alleged that, "Contrary to MGE’s assertion, mailing a postcard that lacks sufficient information to provide the consumer with an accurate understanding of the product being sold does not exempt MGE from the MTSA."

Case 9615

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