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Suit: ‘Scheme to scam’ put dubious charges on Vectren bills

May 23, 2017

An untold number of Vectren utility customers were duped into paying dubious utility-line protection plan charges that went to a different company after Vectren presumably took a kickback on the charge, a proposed class-action lawsuit claims.

The suit filed Tuesday before Judge David Dreyer in Marion Superior Court Civil Division 10 alleges Nicor Energy Services Co. of Naperville, Ill., entered into an agreement to include unregulated charges on Vectren bills.

On those bills, “Nicor categorizes its charges as ‘Non Vectren Energy Delivery Charges’ in contrast to ‘Vectren Delivery and Supply Charges,’ which masks and fails to disclose what the charges are actually for,” according to the suit filed today by Cohen & Malad P.C. of Indianapolis.

“Utilities provide essential services and Hoosiers shouldn’t have to scour utility bills to see whether a private third party company has slipped charges onto their utility bills,” Cohen & Malad partner Lynn Toops said in a statement announcing the suit.

A Nicor spokesman said the company does not comment on pending litigation. A Vectren spokeswoman did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Lead plaintiff Kristyn Plummer alleges in the complaint that her bill for February of this year contained a charge of $45.50 for “Vectren Home Solutions” in addition to delivery and supply charges. The amount appears in the balance due section of the bill, but a fine-print disclaimer says nonpayment won’t result in service disconnection.

“You must directly contact your service provider at the number above to elect to cancel these optional services,” says the disclaimer, which does not name Nicor. “Your responsibility for these charges is dependent upon the terms of your agreement with the service provider.”

The suit claims that regulators in Illinois and consumer-protection experts warn that the line protection plans are of little or no value. “Nicor’s plans are not insurance, but essentially valueless repair plans that consumers would not knowingly purchase because these plans are unnecessary, expensive, and provide very little coverage, if any at all,” the suit alleges. It calls Nicor’s arrangement with Vectren a “scheme to scam public utility customers.”

The suit claims that the charges began appearing on Plummer’s bill last August when she moved and transferred Vectren service from one apartment to another, presumably opting into the service then. Even after Plummer called Vectren to opt out of the service when she noticed the fee last November, the charges continued to appear on her bills for the next several months, according to the suit.

The complaint seeks a class action for all Vectren customers who were billed for a “Non Vectren Energy Delivery Charge.” It asserts these charges violate the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, the Indiana Telephone Solicitations Act, the Indiana Commercial Solicitation Act, and represent unjust enrichment for Nicor.

The suit notes Nicor also operates in Indiana under the assumed names of Vectren Services, Pivotal Home Solutions, NIPSCO Home Solutions, Nicor Home Solutions, Nicor National, Nicor Services, Service Protection Group, D.M. Dykstra, Hawthorn Heating & Air Conditioning, and Tradewinds Heating & Air Conditioning.

The suit is Kristyn Plummer, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, v. Nicor Energy Services Co., 49-D10-1705-PL20673.  

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