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Consumers need a utility bill of rights: Gianaris

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) is calling on the state to create an energy consumers' bill of rights to combat misleading tactics used by energy companies to get customers to switch to their services.

Gianaris said he expects energy suppliers to use aggressive marketing techniques to reel in customers following predictions by Con Edison that residential utility bills could go up 22 percent this summer, while commercial bills could soar 25 percent due to rising crude oil prices.

"Door-to-door marketers for energy suppliers are already notorious for deceiving our most vulnerable residents," Gianaris said. "With energy prices skyrocketing, the opportunity for these predators to manipulate our seniors will multiply."

The assemblyman said his office has long heard complaints about energy companies using deceptive tactics, such as indecipherable language in contracts and "teaser" rates, which lower monthly costs at first before astronomically raising them.

Gianaris proposed a bill of rights for energy users that would require energy service company representatives to present identification and a plain-language statement on customers' rights when visiting consumers' homes.

The bill would also prevent pre-payment for energy services, require that charges are clearly explained and not allow customers to be charged more than $100 for early cancellation of a contract. Under the bill, the state's attorney general would be authorized to fine energy companies $1,000 per violation, Gianaris said.

"ESCOs are using the same underhanded tactics that duped so many into entering subprime mortgages," he said.

Gianaris said the state's Consumer Protection Board reported that consumer complaints against energy service companies rose nearly 400 percent last year.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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