Local business owner Kathy Simon is relieved to hear an investigation is being done by the BC RCMP and the B.C. Utilities Commission into false gas contracts.
The BC RCMP have announced the results of a fraud investigation, spurred by complaints from local businesses claiming they had received higher than normal bills from FortisBC Upon enquiry, those business owners were told they had signed a contract with a different company.
The police investigation revealed that the businesses had either the owner's or an employee's signature forged on a contract with Active Energy or Active Renewable Marketing Ltd. The company is an independent gas marketer licensed by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
The RCMP say they have no evidence to suggest that the management of Active Energy is directly involved in the forgery of signatures or fraud. There is also no evidence that FortisBC is involved in any forgeries or fraud.
"(I feel) a little bit vindicated," Kathy said. "We were told that they wouldn't pursue it."
After getting a surprisingly expensive bill from FortisBC in October for her downtown business, Kathy's Kitchen, she began searching for answers. She contacted FortisBC, who said her natural gas was being provided by Active Energy, an independent gas marketer.
Instead of receiving gas at $4.58 per gigajoule as per the market rate, Kathy had been paying $10.39 per gigajoule since August 1, 2011. Fortis said she had signed a contract with Active Energy in 2008 that would provide gas at that higher, fixed rate starting August 2011.
After pursuing it, Kathy discovered a forged contract had been created with Active Energy in her name. She took her complaint to the Cranbrook RCMP.
"I felt that there was a fraud that was committed," she said.
In all, Kathy said she lost about $700, but other business owners were hit a lot worse than her. In all, she's heard of about 16 different complaints from home and business owners in the area.
In January 2011, Veronica Paauw, who owns Kimberley City Bakery, noticed an increase to her gas bill and discovered she had been signed onto a contract with Active Energy. Pauuw claims a gas marketer came into her business and asked her 15-year-old employee to sign a document without explaining what it was. Over a two-year period, Active Energy had collected $8,000 from Paauw. The BCUC ordered Active Energy to reimburse her and cancel the contract.
Kathy's happy to hear something may be done as the investigation moves forward.
"Regardless of how much money was involved, somebody was forging people's signatures," she said.
Since going public with her story, Kathy said she's had people come to her to take a look at their bills to see if there is anything amiss about the price of gas. She's worried seniors could be unknowingly tricked into paying a much higher price for their gas than they need to.
"I believe that this is huge," Kathy said.
She has some words of wisdom for home and business owners in the area.
"Look very carefully at your bill," she said.
The Cranbrook RCMP is echoing that concern.
"(We) are asking all FortisBC clients to check their natural gas bills and if they note that Active Energy or Active Marketing Ltd. is listed on their bill, clients are to confirm that they do have a valid signed contract with that company," said Cpl. Pat Prefontaine in a recent release. "If you notice any suspicious inconsistencies on your natural gas bill please contact the Cranbrook RCMP and FortisBC."
Kathy suggests looking at the currest market price of natural gas. Her most recent bill put it at $2.97 per gigajoule. If it's anything higher than that, there could be a fraud going on. Underneath the price of gas there should be a company name revealing who is providing the gas to the address on the bill.
If there is a third-party supplier like Active Energy listed on your bill, call the B.C. Utilities Commission right away, Kathy said.
In March 2012, the BCUC launched a compliance inquiry into Active Energy. A BCUC representative wrote to Kathy to tell her about the action, saying that it had dealt with 24 disputes involving Active Energy between November 17, 2011 and February 28, 2012.
The inquiry was held on April 3, and Active Energy was found to be in breach of two provisions of its gas marketer's license. The BCUC ordered 11 amendments to Active Energy's license. The BCUC continues to investigate, according to the Cranbrook RCMP, and complaints can be made to them.
For Kathy, the surprise contract has left a lasting effect on her; she now carefully looks over every gas bill she receives in the mail.
With files from Sally MacDonald.