Do your homework before choosing electrical provider

By Alan Bligh

Your Better Business Bureau receives many calls from Victoria consumers who are trying to decide on an electrical company. This is especially true when these companies are soliciting door to door and making tempting offers. Before choosing a provider you will need to know what you electrical consumption is and if you want a fixed rate or variable rate. Once you have that info you need to:

Go to www.powertochoose.org

Click on "Compare offers" (the box on the top right)

Click on "Step 3 Compare Retail Offers Now"

Enter your zip code and select "Submit"

After you enter your zip code a list of available providers will be displayed. The list will be sorted by the rates with the cheapest at the top. You probably will be surprised at how many there are. Now, once you have selected a couple of companies:

Return back to the previous page (where you had entered your zip code)

Click on "Customer Complaint Statistics" to see if your choices have good track records.

Also check bbb.org. That's all there is too it. The site also has a tremendous amount of general information on electric companies. Powertochoose is provided courtesy of the Texas Public Utilities Commission.

OIL SPILL SCAMS

As we often say, "today's headlines produce tomorrow's scams." A good example is the current oil spill. As the Gulf Coast prepared for the potential impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, your BBB is warning consumers to be on the lookout for scammers looking to take advantage of the situation. Already, scammers have been reported trying to convince consumers to pay for "volunteer training." Local officials, of course, are offering training for those who want to volunteer to help with cleanup efforts at no charge. One law enforcement office is reporting rumors of contractors trying to sell some type of chemically-treated beds to cover beaches and other at-risk property to absorb oil. BBB urges consumers to do their homework before signing a contract or making a purchase.

MISLEADING DEBT SETTLEMENTS

BBB again warns financially troubled families in the Victoria area to beware of misleading debt settlement companies that claim easy reduction or elimination of credit card debt. In 2009, complaints to BBB against debt settlement companies rose 15 percent. Consumers tell BBB that instead of having their debt settled as promised, they were driven deeper into debt and sometimes sued by their creditors. Watch out for these red flags:

The representative is reluctant to provide the organization's business name and address or insists upon an immediate decision.

The company demands that you provide account numbers or other financial details before it will discuss its services or fees.

The company claims it can "lower your monthly payments by 30 to 50 percent" or promises they can "get you out of debt easily."

The representative states they can evaluate your situation in just minutes over the phone.

The company claims it can remove negative information, such as bankruptcy, from your credit report.

The representative issues a blanket recommendation for a debt-management plan.

And always check these companies out at www.bbb.org.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by e-mail at abligh@corpuschristi.bbb.org.