Neighbors worry about pitch to lower home gas bills

Neighbors worry about pitch to lower home gas bills »Play Video
This woman recently went around an east Bakersfield neighborhood trying to sell reduced-rate utility service, according to the Eyewitness News viewer who provided this photo.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Residents in an east Bakersfield neighborhood are worrying it could be a scam after people came through the area offering to lower their utility bills.

One woman grew so suspicious that her husband snapped photos of several women and an old van they were riding in. "They rang the door bell, said they were from PG&E, and asked if they could help us with our PG&E payments," this neighbor said. She didn't want to be identified.

This was Wednesday, and around the corner, John Calvillo's family also got a visit. "This young girl came to ask about paying half the bill of our PG&E," he said.

It turns out, there is a program where certain companies can sell you natural gas directly. But, there seems to be plenty of confusion about what's going on, and possibly some things to watch out for.

Apparently, the pitch was for a program called Core Gas Aggregation, and eligible companies can provide gas to homes and businesses.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has information about the program on its website and a list of 20 companies that are certified.

"It is an optional program for customers to buy gas for their home or business directly from a third party," PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen told Eyewitness News. Those companies are called Core Transport Agents.

Yolanda Hernandez also got a visit from a woman in the group on Wednesday. "They were talking about wanting to get my bill lower from PG&E," she said. "And I went, 'I already did that with someone else.'"

The week before, a man had come to Hernandez' home, and she signed up with a company called "Commerce Energy." She was told she'd start to see much lower gas bills. "And then later on they'll do the electricity," Hernandez said. "They'll come back in three months and sign me up for that."

That's a misunderstanding. Allen says the program is for natural gas service only, not for electricty.  And while the customer will pay for the gas from the third party, they will still pay certain fees to PG&E.

"The majority of the cusomters will see charges from PG&E for their distribution and transmission of their gas," Allen explains.

Calvillo said the people who approached him about this deal wanted to see the family's PG&E bill. Allen said PG&E does not recommend showing a bill to anyone.

As for Calvillo being told the company could "pay half their bill," that could be a reference to the part of the bill that's gas -- not electricty.

There is a possible scam involving electricty. Bakersfield Police officers are checking a situation Eyewitness News investigated last week, where a woman allegedly offers a program for a pre-paid flat fee to cover electric service.

That woman meets possible customers in shopping center parking lots, and asks for cash payments. One viewer said his friend paid $300, but his power was turned off several months later. Police have told us, they are investigating a similar case.

With the gas program, there's stil the question of verifying who's selling the service. All three neighbors say the women who approached them on Wednesday had no identification that they ever saw. "She was holding a clip board," says the neighbor whose husband took the photos of the van.

 Eyewitness News sent that photo to Bakersfield Police, and a detective said there was no sign of anything fraudulent.

Still, PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen says there are things to watch out for. "We have heard from our customers in the past that some of these companies can use aggressive marketing tactics," Allen said. She advises any customer can check the website to see the list of certified gas providers, which also includes phone numbers for these companies.

Customers can also call the PG&E 800-number, or go to any of the company's payment centers. "We advise them to call us any time with any concern or question about the Core Gas Aggregation programs," Allen said.

Calvillo said his family turned down the deal, he's just being cautious. "I said No,"Calvillo said. "No thank you."