Bamboozled: The waiting game

Most of the time, consumers write to Bamboozled for help when they’ve been wronged.BB branding

They’ve tried to wriggle through bureaucracy to stop bills they don’t owe or fight to get refunds they never received.

Chuck Pierce, 59, contacted us with what he called a “Reverse Bamboozled.”

”I have the opposite problem,” Pierce said. ”I owe money for a service I have received and continue to receive and the company refuses to acknowledge that I owe money or to fix the problem.”


Pierce, who has lived in the same Hackettstown home for the past 31 years, has been a customer of Elizabethtown Gas for the duration. Last winter, Pierce realized he hadn’t received a gas bill for a while.

He checked his records and saw he hadn’t received a bill since January 2008. He worried he owed the gas company some serious money.

63009”Imagine my surprise when I logged into my account online and discovered that my balance
was zero,” he said.

Pierce decided to call customer service, fearing he’d be slammed with a jumbo past-due bill that would negatively affect his credit.

Pierce navigated his way through the voice mail menu and reached what he said was a very polite representative who sounded like he was in India. The rep told Pierce he didn’t owe anything and that he should have a nice day.

Pierce explained there must be an error because he hadn’t received any bills and his house had been toasty warm through two New Jersey winters. After further investigation, the rep said the company had been unable to read Pierce’s meter.

Hmmmm. Pierce said his meter was in the same place it’s always been, outside his home, and then he was put on hold again. The rep then said the meter is read remotely when gas company truckers drive past the home, but either the remote reader or the meter must be on the fritz.

”I’m picturing some lazy employee with a bag of chips who won’t get out of the truck to read the meter until they can fix it,” Pierce said, and he requested a service call to fix his meter.

Weeks later, Pierce received a message from the gas company saying they couldn’t find his house for the repair call. Pierce called back with detailed directions. He didn’t hear back, nor did he received an updated gas bill.

He decided to try another approach. Pierce sent a check for $1,000, figuring that would get attention from someone in billing. After a week, Pierce logged on to his account, finding a $1,000 credit on his account, and still, no charges.

Again, a call to customer service in India, and after some back-and-forth, Pierce was transferred to someone in Atlanta — thousands of miles closer to his New Jersey home. The Atlanta employee said several workers have been unable to find Pierce’s house.

”I asked him if I had called in a gas leak, would they have been able to find my house and fix the leak?” Pierce said. ”He said, ‘No way.’ You can imagine how comforting I found that, but I did appreciate his honesty.”

This rep was able to tell Pierce his lack of bills actually extended six months earlier, so he would owe charges dating to the summer of 2007.

Frustrated, Pierce asked the rep if he could find Pierce’s next-door-neighbor’s home. Yes they could, the rep said.

”After putting my hand over the phone and screaming, I made a mental note that in the case of a future gas leak, I would run to my neighbor’s and have her call it in and I would go stand in the middle of the intersection and wait for the truck,” Pierce said. ”This method would also give me a great view of my house as it blew up.”

The rep agreed to send someone out again about the meter, Pierce said, wondering if they’d send someone from India, or Atlanta or somewhere closer.

After a few weeks Pierce came home from work to find a gas company truck in his driveway. Pierce said he was ready to hug the guy, but the employee said he wasn’t there about the meter. He was just performing a routine check and cleaning the pipes connecting the gas meter.

And still, no bill.

Someone, anyone, take my money, please!

Bamboozled called Elizabethtown Gas to share Pierce’s story and to try to finally get him a bill.

Within hours, Pierce received a phone call from a gas company rep who said his total bill would be about $1,800.

“We discovered his account was not billed correctly due to a data entry error,” said Elizabethtown Gas spokeswoman Tami Gerke. ”Mr. Pierce will be receiving a bill for the amount owed.”

Excellent. Case closed.

Or not.

Eager to see his actual bill, Pierce checked his online account. The bill was changing every day, and he started seeing charges above the $1,800 promised by the telephone representative, and the statement showed meter readings for the meter that couldn’t be read for months.

Elizabethtown’s Gerke said the online accounts were not yet fully updated. On the cost, she said Pierce shouldn’t have been quoted the $1,800 because the company hadn’t yet determined the final cost.

But because they quoted a price, the company would stand by the $1,800 — or, $800, what remained after the $1,000 Pierce already paid – no matter what the actual consumption was.

On the meter readings, Gerke explained the company could determine the proper consumption, and therefore the proper rate, by using the last estimated meter reading from January 9, 2008 and doing some math.

That was a relief to Pierce.

Until later that week, June 18, when he received a collections call on his answering machine.

When he called customer service, he reached another polite and accented rep who said Pierce owed more than the $800, and the rep asked when he’d be making a payment.

”He told me that a bill would be mailed on the 17th. I know it was 18th but it must be one of those International Date Line things,” Pierce said, exasperated. ”Anyway, it would arrive in seven to 10 days. I guess they mail them from India.”

The resolution… we think

Gerke said the company is working to fix all the errors related to Pierce’s account.

You’d think the company’s computer system would red flag customer accounts that were not generating bills. You’d also think service people who can’t find a home would get that fixed, rather than risk huge liability in the case of a gas leak.

One final note: the company filed an application with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in March for a rate increase. Included was a proposal for a new customer call center in New Jersey. Maybe that will help.

”If they do everything they promised, I’ll forgive them and remain a customer,” Pierce said.