Texas serviceman battles TXU before he leaves for war

An Army sergeant was in a rush. Before leaving for Afghanistan, he wanted to send Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation on a mission on his behalf. But I had to hurry, he said. He was leaving for war in a few days.

His problem? His electric bill with TXU Energy.

Here’s what he told me:

Sgt. Francis J. Jaeger of Haltom City, Texas switched from TXU to another company. He owed TXU money, so he set up a payment plan. He made his first payment.

Several weeks later, he received a bill from a collection agency. TXU jumped the gun. He was paying, but TXU passed the bill on anyway.

He called to complain. TXU told him that it was a mistake and that the utility would fix it. But that didn’t happen.

His credit rating dropped, and he began to get worried.

“I’m in the Army and have to have a security clearance, which I do,” he told me. “But because of my poor credit, I am in jeopardy of losing my clearance.”

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As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, he kept calling TXU, and he kept getting told it was being fixed. But it never was. Months passed. “My credit is ruined,” he said. “I have continued to make payments on it to keep my part of the deal, but they refuse to help. I have talked to others who switched from TXU, and they tell me that they too have been wronged by TXU. It seems that they are punishing customers for leaving them.”

Watchdog Nation didn’t want the sergeant to worry about his credit score in the middle of a war zone. I immediately contacted TXU and explained the problem. At that point, TXU took action — and blame.

TXU spokesman Michael Patterson says, “There was a delay on our end in getting Mr. Jaeger his installment plan documentation such that he did not receive it in time to make his first payment.

“As a result, his installment plan was canceled. This triggered collection activities and credit bureau reporting.

“We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused him, and we have notified the credit agencies and requested that they remove our report. This should not have a negative impact on his credit score once that process is complete.

“I realize this is frustrating for Mr. Jaeger, and we have improved our internal process to help ensure that does not happen to another customer.”

OK. That’s the TXU we-will-improve-our-internal-process story for this week. How about TXU’s external process?

Last week, a TXU door-to-door salesman knocked on my door. As always happens when any type of salesman knocks on The Watchdog’s door, in a matter of moments the salesman said things that were both stupid and wrong.

I asked the salesman about TXU’s iffy customer service. But the salesman had a ready answer. He said TXU is rated No. 1 in Texas for customer service.

I asked who did the rating. J.D. Power & Associates, he said.

I explained to him that according to public state records, TXU’s complaint level compared with other companies is neither best nor worst. TXU is in the middle when it comes to complaint ratings.

How do I know? Periodically, I check what I consider one of the most important state government documents available to Texans — semiannual scorecards of complaint levels of each electricity company. (Go to www.powertochose.org, click on “Go Directly to Offers” and then click on “Customer Complaint Statistics.”)

 After the salesman left, I checked the J.D. Power ratings. For 2010, TXU is shown at the bottom of a list of five major electricity providers, a rating well below the industry average.

When I asked the TXU spokesman about this, Patterson answered: “It appears the agent did not follow his training, and the messaging he provided was not consistent with his training. We will provide additional training to address this issue and will contact customers who purchased power from this agent so that we can verify whether they were told the same and validate their contract with TXU Energy.

“We are investigating this matter and depending on the results of our investigation, we will ensure they no longer sell TXU Energy products.”

OK, sounds serious. But here’s the catch. Patterson didn’t ask me any questions for an investigation. (Hint to TXU: Where do I live? When did the agent visit? What is his name?) That basic stuff would show that TXU is really doing what they say, instead of just pretending to fix things, like they pretended to fix the sergeant’s credit problem.

Never buy electricity from a door-to-door salesman. If you want to switch companies and save money, read my Guide to Electricity Savings here.

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Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

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