Former employee comes out against gas and electric company Palmco

Nina Pineda has the 7 On Your Side report
Seven On Your Side
March 17, 2014 3:12:07 PM PDT
7 On Your Side recently "fought and got" refunds for power customers complaining they were hit with huge power bills after being duped into switching power companies.

Now another jolt, an insider accusing the company of shady sales tactics.

After our first story, we've received still more complaints from customers who say they were deceived.


But then an additional shock, a former employee posting consumer warnings on of all places, the energy company's Facebook page.

Now this insider's telling her story to 7 On Your Side.

"Customers were being slammed it was common knowledge in the company that sales reps weren't being truthful," said the former PALMco employee.

This former PALMco employee doesn't want her FACE shown, but took to Facebook under the alias "January Delgado" after being let go by a power company SHE SAYS allowed their sales reps to mislead customers into switching providers.

"What I saw working there was that a lot of the people being targeted were the elderly and people from low income communities," she said.

Jonaissy Soto said she was told her bills would be lower.

Soto saw the Facebook warnings on PALMco's page when she posted her story saying the PALMco sales rep who misled her was dressed up like a utility worker.

"He had some tag that said PSE&G on it."

Pineda: "He wore a badge that has PSE&G and he told you I'm with PSE&G"

Soto: "Yes"

She signed the PALMco contract which states "prices will be vary" based on the market. But instead of competitive rates hers ballooned. She owes a whopping $1,700 for 2 months.

Our insider said prices always jumped after the intro rate.

"After a 2 or 3 months period those rates were no longer competitive. They would just go up and up and up," she said.

The same double and triple-rate increase stung two other customers we recently helped with refunds, one claimed her signature was forged on PALMCo's contract.

Nina: "Did you sign this?"

Joanna Zmuda a former PALMco customer: "No"

Nina: Forged signature, you saw this before?

Former Employee: "Yes absolutely we saw thing like this all the time.

She suspected PALMco's hired sales reps were forging contracts after noticing the same handwriting for dozens of different customers signatures.

"Specific sales reps were just bringing in ridiculous amount of customers agreement and in one day you can't see on rep signing up 100 people it's just impossible," she adds.

Nina: "But you were making your supervisors aware and they were making the owners aware that this sales team the outside marketing firm was misrepresenting the company.

Former Worker: "Yes"

She says the bad sales reps were merely monitored, only those caught forging contracts were fired.

Three years ago, the company which also operates as Columbia Utilities was hit with a hefty fine by the New York Attorney General.

Agreeing in a settlement to refund customers $2 million after being accused it misled thousands. Columbia denied the fraudulent sale practices but promised stricter oversight.

New Jersey's utility watchdog has 60 complaints from PALMco customers.

"They should definitely file a complaint with the board and they can look into it and maybe take away this company's license," said Stefanie Brand, NJ Division of Rate Counsel.

This week we told PALMco about 6 more unhappy customers who contacted us. Well now company is cutting them refund checks totaling more than $2,700. All told we've helped get back more than $5,000 for customers.

PALMco also told us it's now demanding its third party sales companies immediately review training procedures and even provide additional training to their sales reps.

And regarding the sale people in question PALMco says none of them are with the company anymore.

The company released the following statement:
"Unfortunately, unusually cold winters like this one can drive up demand and produce spikes in market prices. While market rates are beyond our control and our customer agreement states that savings cannot be guaranteed, we always aim to keep our customers' costs as low as we can. In fact, the rates reflected on some of our customers' recent bills were actually below our cost because we understand that the sudden surge in prices may be a financial challenge for some.

Our company stands for great service and customer satisfaction and we simply do not tolerate any third party sales representatives who fail to adhere to our standards.

Our marketing and sales functions are provided by third-party companies, who have a contractual obligation to comply with our high customer service standards and all regulations. We have an extensive compliance process in place to ensure that all third-party sales representatives are meeting our standards, and that includes 24 staff to review sales and an additional, dedicated compliance staff of 10. If we suspect any failure to adhere to our standards, we ensure that the sales company immediately retrains and disciplines or removes the individual in question. All of the salespeople in question have not been affiliated with the company for some time.

In addition to PALMco's continuous compliance reviews, we are directing the third-party sales companies we work with in New Jersey to immediately review training procedures, provide additional training to their sales reps, and report the results to us. We will terminate our relationship with any company that fails to do this and meet our high standards."