Energy saving scam targets U. students

My roommate and I occupy two single bedrooms in our apartment on Hamilton Street. Toward the end of September, my roommate was compelled by a company called IDT Energy to sign up for its “money-saving” electricity and gas supplying service. The problem — there is no money saving.

Before enrolling in this plan, our electric and gas bill was $50.35 for August, $57.67 for September and $53.53 for October. This is when PSE&G was supplying and delivering our electricity and gas. Two weeks ago, my roommate received her biggest shock, carefully sealed in an envelope — an electric and gas bill of $1441.70.

If you look up IDT energy, the second suggestion Google offers is “IDT energy scam.” In retrospect I wish we would have known this, but being a college student, especially an international student who pays $15,000 more in tuition than in-state students, the words “money saving” were as appealing as “free food” is to any broke University student.

Without any written contract, my roommate was asked to provide her details to someone on the phone who narrated the terms of the contract in a jargon that a college student with zero to little knowledge about how these bills work, may not necessarily understand. “Throughout the year, as electric and natural gas rates rise and fall, IDT Energy scours the wholesale energy markets seeking the best rates,” is what its website reads. Translation: we increase our rates for electric and gas every month.

Between December and March, its rate for electricity increased from 0.5564 to 0.7383, and gas from 0.1231 to 0.1387. Thanks to just this increase, our bill was $200 more than what it would have been if the rates were stable. Nowhere on the website, the bill or the contract — that took place over the phone — did they mention its variability in prices. Another pitfall is that while PSE&G says the bill has accumulated for the past five months (still impossible) since we weren’t letting the meter-reading guy in, IDT says the bill is for the past month (absolutely impossible).

Two people, who weren’t in the house for a month between December and January as well as a week in March, cannot use 912 units of gas and 1903 units of electricity, compared to 14 estimated units of gas in February and 149 of electric. That is 65 times more usage of gas and 12 times more usage of electricity. Both PSE&G and IDT refuse to recheck the meter, offer decent customer service or give us a breakup of these last five months. The only breakup they offer is a 6-month installment to pay off the outrageous amount.

As for cancellation, nothing is immediate. The contract with IDT will only be terminated after one more electric cycle and two more gas billing cycles.

We had been juggled enough between the hands of these two companies, so I decided to pen down my frustration in an email to IDT and have agreed to offer us an “account investigation.” My roommate and I are not the only targets of this egregious scam. IDT’s review page is filled with angry customers voicing similar complaints. Students at Rutgers too have been the target of such swindling.

I do not know the ultimate outcome of this scam. In the end it might burn a deep hole in our pockets, but it is important that more and more students know about this so IDT, or any such fraudulent company, doesn’t continue to screw over college students just because we are easy prey to catch.

Vaishali Gauba is a Rutgers Business School junior, double majoring in business management and journalism and media studies. She is a former News Editor of The Daily Targum. 

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