Complaints about aggressive natural gas marketers are nothing new.
A B.C. Utilities Commission ruling opened up the market in 2007 for companies to sell natural gas to residential customers at fixed prices under long-term contracts.
The premise was good; such contracts meant homeowners could better budget, rather than being exposed to fluctuating rates.
But there were problems - complaints poured in about aggressive marketing, people found costs higher than promised, some claimed their signatures were forged to contracts and others were furious that they couldn't get out of contracts they had signed onto.
In 2007-2008, the year the Customer Choice Program was launched, the BCUC logged 9,929 complaints from customers who had signed on with the new companies. The number of complaints over the next three years ranged from 2,550 to 4,097, dropping to 1,839 in 2011-2012.
Complaints about the gas marketers themselves weren't tracked in 2007 but nibbled at nearly 300 a year for the next three years and went down to only 129 complaints last year.
The drop in both areas shows the complaints process set up by the utilities commission - which encourages people to first try to resolve the issue with the regulated company in question and if that doesn't work, it will review the complaint and can make a ruling - is working.
The commission also set up a code of conduct for gas marketers to follow, like salespeople appropriately identifying themselves, not misleading potential customers, sticking within certain hours to market door to door and a 10-day right to cancel a contract without penalty.
But despite the system being in place, people like Kamloops senior Iris Strain still feel violated when "aggressive" natural gas marketers repeatedly show up at her door.
The disabled woman says when she didn't reach the door quickly enough, the most recent salesman stuck his clipboard through her hanging magnetic screens and pulled them down (which she says he denied he did).
It was the fifth visit by a natural gas marketer since fall, despite a sign she put up that says "no soliciting."
Fed up, she set out to find out who was behind sending these salespeople to her door, both lodging a complaint with the utilities commission and calling Fortis to see if it had provided her information.
Fortis referred her to the BCUC, but the company told me it does not provide customer information to natural gas marketers, such data is protected under the B.C. Personal Information Protection Act (and why would they want to potentially lose customers anyway?).
The Fortis spokesman added that natural gas companies target areas where they know the product is used.
People should have a right to say no without feeling they're being harassed, but at the same time, consumers have to watch out for their own interests by ensuring they gather some basic information.
When someone shows up at your door, ask what company they are from and for ID. Mark both down, along with the date. Should they return again, you've got the data to lodge a complaint.
If you end up being unhappy with a contract and want to cancel, get a confirmation number of the cancellation, the name of the operator and written confirmation.
Aggressive marketers need to be put in their place, but we have to arm ourselves with the right arrows to pin them there.