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Retail Supplier Agrees To Not Advise Customers That The Utility Rate "Fluctuates", As Part Of $92,500 Settlement

Settlement, Addressing Alleged Deceptive Marketing, Includes Telemarketing Moratorium

Yet Another Supplier Investigation Born From Sales Call To PUC Oversight Director

January 17, 2023

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Copyright 2010-21
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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Great American Power, LLC ('GAP' or 'Company') would pay $92,500, and has agreed to a one-year moratorium of telemarketing through third-party vendors, under a settlement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s ('Commission') Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement ('I&E') to resolve alleged misleading and deceptive telemarketing calls, and related alleged violations

I&E's investigation was, yet again, prompted by a sales call to the PUC's Director of the Office of Competitive Market Oversight (Daniel Mumford). As previously reported, several additional distinct and unaffiliated suppliers have previously found themselves the subject of investigations, resulting in settlements, due to cold calls to the PUC's "top cop".

The new GAP settlement states, "Mr. Mumford personally received a telemarketing phone call from a GAP representative on May 19, 2020 and described the corresponding phone conversation in detail."

The settlement states, "On May 19, 2020, Mr. Mumford received a telemarketing call with a caller ID showing Chambersburg, PA [alleged to be spoofed] and which started as an automated/robocall advising Mr. Mumford that he 'qualified' for a discount on his electric service and a $50 'reward.' Mr. Mumford stated that after pressing 'one,' a representative came on the call and immediately requested that Mr. Mumford retrieve his PPL electric bill and provide his address and account number. The representative did not identify himself by name, disclose who he was calling on behalf of, nor state the nature of his business/the call. The representative merely informed Mr. Mumford that he was ensuring that the benefits were going to the right person."

Among other alleged violations, I&E was prepared to allege that such call violated the applicable Pa. Code because the live agent did not identify who he/she was working on the behalf of upon first contact and did not state that he/she was not working for the local EDC upon first contact

Further, I&E alleged that, "Mr. Mumford was then coached through the verification process (told to say yes to everything and not ask any questions) and was placed on a brief hold. The verifier answered the 'call' and immediately asked for his birthdate."

The call prompted a broader investigation of GAP.

Notably, under such investigation, I&E alleged there were 35 calls with GAP’s customer care call center where the customer care representative explained or advised the customer that the EDC’s rate fluctuates or is a variable rate which changes every month.

Additionally, the settlement states that, of 156 recorded complaints received by GAP’s customer care call center, 153 alleged at least one violation of the Public Utility Code and/or Commission regulations while a majority alleged more than one (1) violation. As stated in the settlement, the alleged violations included but are not limited to:

1) Slamming;

2) Enrollment of customer under false pretenses;

3) Enrollment of customers with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or an active Power of Attorney;

4) Misrepresentation of the customer’s current rate;

5) Misrepresentation of savings;

6) Misrepresentation of the rewards program;

7) Misrepresentation or failure to explain 50-cent daily charge;

8) Misrepresentation of customer’s ability to choose an EGS;

9) Misrepresentation of the status of other EGS companies, i.e., stating that company no longer was in business, that company was taken over by GAP, that contract with current supplier ended/was ending, etc.;

10) Misrepresentation of the enrollment process, i.e., advising potential customer that enrollment would not be confirmed until written materials were sent and signed by potential customer;

11) Promised gift card or check, monetary amount ranging from $50 to $200;

12) Promised rebate or refund after informing potential customer that he/she was overcharged by prior supplier and/or EDC;

13) Providing incorrect information regarding billing, i.e., telling customer that distribution charge will disappear if customer switched or that all rates would be combined into GAP’s offered rate;

14) Agent stating that he/she was acting on the behalf of or working for local EDC;

15) Agent stating that he/she was acting on behalf of or working for other EGS company;

16) Spoofing of EDC’s phone number; and

17) Harassment of potential customers by initiating/completing voluminous phone calls.

The settlement also includes allegations from specific customer complaints. The settlement describes one complaint as alleging, "Customer was switched to GAP without consent. Customer is 90 years old and son has power of attorney over her affairs, thus customer did not have authority/ability to authorize enrollment; Third-party verification recording raised concerns of customer’s competency/ability to authorize enrollment."

The settlement alleges additional similar complaints where the verification was allegedly completed by a person not authorized to enroll the account and/or there were alleged inconsistencies in the recording of the verification

The settlement cites complaints in which a customer alleged that the GAP representative misrepresented himself as PECO and coached her through the verification process, and in which a customer described a telemarketing call where the GAP representative allegedly stated that he was a PECO employee and immediately requested the customer’s account information

Another customer alleged that, in a phone call from a GAP representative, the representative allegedly stated the customer was not switching suppliers and that there was no contract.

In addition to the third-party telemarketing moratorium and fine noted above, Great American Power, LLC under the settlement, "shall cease and desist from advising customers that an electric distribution company’s rate fluctuates or is a variable rate."

GAP also agrees to customary remedial measures including agent training, and providing such training and other marketing materials to PUC Staff prior to resuming third-party telemarketing

GAP had voluntarily ceased all telemarketing in Pennsylvania on May 6, 2021

In a statement filed with the PUC in support of the settlement, GAP said, "GAP believes that the Settlement is a reasonable and fair resolution of the issues raised in the investigation and recognizes that the many of the concerns raised were not recent, which reflects what GAP hopes the Commission will recognize as its recent progress in providing service to its customers at the highest level of cooperation, compliance and accountability. While GAP denies that it has violated any applicable statute, Commission Regulation or order, it nonetheless recognizes that the conduct identified is serious and it has approached it as such."

In a statement filed with the PUC in support of the settlement, GAP said, "There were only 15 customers in which BIE alleges specific violations (4 of which involve billing errors not related to the marketing conduct at issue), while the remaining number reflect an unknown number of unsubstantiated allegations. Additionally, GAP voluntarily ceased telemarketing through vendors, further limiting the number of customers impacted."

Docket No. M-2023-3020643


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