I’ve been living in New York for several years already, and thankfully have never been scammed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been approached by scammers. The thing is, none of these have ever panned out. Strangely enough, the only two potential scammers who have approached me have both been within the past couple of months. A few weeks ago, a friend and I were hailing a taxi and a black car rolled up and pulled his window down. “Uber?” He asked, and held up his phone case, which had the Uber logo on it. We hadn’t ordered an Uber and something about this car seemed off. We told the man to go, and after a few more minutes went by without any luck hailing a yellow taxi, we did end up calling a real Uber.
Once in this real Uber, my friend asked, “You’ve never seen that scam before?” I had not, but apparently, it is big enough for the Showtime series Shameless to have used it as one of Carl Gallagher’s money-making schemes this season. In an odd way, it was genius. All you needed was a black car and an Uber phone case. My friend was born and raised in New York, and apparently sees this kind of thing all the time. Still, he was also pickpocketed last week.
Another con that causes problems is a third-party energy supplier scam. A well-dressed man in a suit came to my door and pitched me on saving money on my Con Ed bill. Not knowing enough, I signed up, and then was shocked when my bill arrived the next month; the price had actually gone up. It was difficult to get my money back, but thankfully it worked out. Who has the chutzpah to knock on someone’s door, look me in the eye and steal my money?
This one really had me shaken up, considering the pure gall of it all, and that I could really have been hurt. It made me research more into the ESCO (energy service company) scams and found that most ESCOs are indeed predators — and they take advantage of people who have the least money and the least access to legal assistance. What I did see though is worth mentioning.
The New York State Public Service Commission actually singled out three ESCOs for delivering what they claim, and helping those in need. The PSC determined that Just Energy NY, National Fuel Resources and Zone One Energy could service low-income customers because it confirmed the validity of their promise to offer guaranteed savings and benefits to its customers. I made some calls and had the opportunity to speak to Ari Green, the CEO of Zone1Energy, who told me that they offer a minimum of three percent savings, and if they cannot, they will not sign the customer. That is quite the statement. Green said that Zone1Energy was founded to “rise up in an industry polluted by scams.” Green also sees this as a way to be giving back; a sort of charity if you will. Sure, they make money, but their business model also helps people save money.
None of Zone1Energy’s principals are native New Yorkers, in fact one splits time between Israel and the US, though all have either lived or worked in New York for a while and know how expensive it can be. That drove them to provide savings to as many local residents as possible. Additionally, post Chanukah gift giving, and as many look to Christmas giving season, a little savings can make for nice gifts.
“There are certainly challenges associated with operating a business in an industry that has a poor reputation and negative perception that are well-deserved,” Ari said. “New York customers have been significantly overcharged for their energy by third party suppliers, and many had to pay stiff penalties if they wanted to terminate their contracts. As a result, when approaching a prospective customer, we often need to first unwind all of the negativity that they have regarding an ESCO before they will even listen to our value proposition.”
But there is a significant advantage to being one of the few good players in an otherwise tainted field, they can make a real difference for people who need it the most. “Knowing what other ESCOs do to people, when someone decides to give us their business, our appreciation is immeasurable, and our customer’s satisfaction is priceless,” Green said.