by: Jim Strickland Updated:
ATLANTA - State regulators are coming down hard on a gas marketer accused of shady sales practices.
Consumer investigator Jim Strickland had the only camera there as MX Energy received a $50,000 fine and other penalties Tuesday.
Sales representatives for the utility had been going door-to-door in metro Atlanta neighborhoods. Some residents received letters thanking them for signing up when they hadn't agreed to do so. Strickland spoke with consumer Matt Godown, a victim of the practice known as slamming.
"I owed them 40 bucks," he said, showing Strickland the first bill he received after the unauthorized service began.
"You didn't sign up for service?" Strickland asked.
"No, I sure didn't," he replied.
Godown said he agreed only to receive information on the company's gas rates.
"Then of course, a couple of weeks later I get this bill in the mail," he said.
The Public Service Commission accused MX Energy of slamming 136 customers. Regulators said they're on the lookout.
"There's still a potential out there, but the point is when we find out about it we take it extremely seriously," said commission vice chairman Chuck Eaton.
In addition to the fine, the company must pay $735 to each of the affected consumers and pay for their gas during the time they were slammed.
"I think it's pretty easy to be cynical about government agencies. I wish the DMV was as effective as the PSC," said Godown.
MX now does business under the name Constellation. A representative addressed the issue in an email statement saying, "MXenergy cooperated fully with the Georgia PSC investigation and apologizes for any inconvenience experienced by customers. It's important to emphasize that the customers identified in the investigation will suffer no monetary harm. Each customer will receive a one-time $735 payment as well as a refund for gas bills they paid while a customer of MX. The company is developing a comprehensive retraining program for sales agents operating in Georgia and is 100 percent committed to lawful and ethical business conduct."