Lisa Meyers and Susan Spacone are the first to admit they don’t routinely examine their monthly Nicor Gas bills. But that all changed after the women recently noticed mysterious charges for services they insist they never signed up for on their bills.
When they called Nicor Gas to get the charges wiped out, they were directed to its sister company, Nicor Home Solutions. That’s when they learned they’d been paying thousands of dollars for home warranty services they didn’t want or need for years.
"They told me indeed I had signed up. I was starting to get angry because I didn’t," Susan Spacone said. "Where’s the proof, where’s the paper I signed?"
Lisa Meyers said the same thing happened to her.
“I want it in writing that I signed up for this. And she said, well, no there’s nothing in writing. And I said, I didn’t agree to this. I didn’t sign to this, and now you’re telling me you don’t even have my signature?” Meyers recalled.
No signatures, no contract and no way out, according to the women.
Adding to the controversy, Nicor Home Solutions and Nicor Gas are owned by the same company. But Nicor Home Solutions is not subject to the same regulatory scrutiny as Nicor Gas, yet its charges are slipped onto the bill, using a similar name and the same logo.
Business practices an insider – who spoke to NBC 5 Responds on the condition of anonymity -- calls predatory.
"All of it is sneaky," the insider said. "From the beginning of the call, to the marketing material."
It starts with a pitch customers receive in the mail, offering various protections for home appliances from Nicor Home Solutions. The mailer also has Nicor’s name and logo on it, aimed at enticing Nicor Gas customers to call. And when they do, the insider says a salesperson is waiting on the other end, pressured to sell unneeded home warranty plans to unsuspecting consumers.
"We play on your emotions. It doesn’t matter if the customer needs it or not. They just want us to sell," the whistleblower told NBC 5 Responds. "We don’t have a choice. We will get fired if we don’t sell."
The insider called the practices unethical and lucrative, bringing in millions of dollars to the company. The Citizens Utility Board agrees. The watchdog group said consumers are left in the dark about who they’re really dealing with and what they’re actually paying for.
"It’s just unfair to consumers. Nicor Home Solutions is not Nicor Gas," CUB’s Jim Chilsen said. "What’s sad about this is that customers are forced to play a guessing game over the company behind the charges on your utility bill."
In a statement, Nicor Home Solutions told NBC 5 Responds:
“We hold ourselves accountable to our customers first and foremost. For 25 years, Nicor Home Solutions has provided peace of mind to Illinois homeowners who choose our home warranty services – services that make households safer and more energy efficient, while protecting household budgets from unexpected costs. We strive to deliver an exceptional customer experience by providing clear, open and honest communication with our customers and refute any claims to the contrary. We remain committed to earning our customers’ trust and welcome an open dialogue with any of our customers.”
“We are committed to delivering an exceptional customer experience and hold ourselves accountable to our customers first and foremost. That starts with listening to - and learning from - our customers so we fully understand how to best meet their needs and then providing the tools, services and solutions that bring value to their daily lives. In addition to our own quality measures that are in place to ensure customers are enrolled in the home warranty plans they request, our customers also have choice and control over the plans they choose and can discontinue coverage at any time. We greatly regret that these particular customers did not utilize the valuable coverage they purchased, despite numerous reminders from us over the years of the coverage they held. We have offered a goodwill credit amount to these customers as we are committed to providing excellent customer service.”
The Illinois Attorney General’s office told NBC 5 Responds it is aware of this issue and is looking into consumer complaints. The AG’s office said it will be reaching out to Nicor Home Solutions and the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities, in the coming months.