Pensioners left ruing opening their doors as firm that claims to help save energy strikes again

2014-09-30 00:00

SUSTAINABLE Energy, the business that cold calls consumers to set up appointments to help them “save electricity”, has struck again, leaving in its wake unhappy pensioners who regret opening their doors and handing over their bank cards.

I’ve previously featured complaints about the company, also known as United Thermal Technology (UTT), which claims it’s working with Eskom and charges up to R17 000 for its energy-saving devices. The company’s staff advise consumers that it operates from 261 Che Guevara Road in Durban.

The Payments Association of South Africa assured me in July that UTT had been listed on an “adverse merchant list” and that both Standard Bank and Mercantile Bank had investigated and suspended its credit card facilities.

But the company has continued to make calls and consumers reported on social media that areas from Amanzimtoti, Glenwood and Morningside to Pietermaritzburg had been targeted.

Linda Probert (66) of Morningside was one of the unlucky customers.

“I got a call from a lady who said it had come to their attention that my electricity was high — and it had been high — it was R400 higher. I’m retired and desperately trying to cut costs,” she said.

“She said they’d like to chat to me about reducing the costs,” Probert said.

Probert said a “lovely, presentable” young man named Kyle visited her the following evening.

“I can’t tell you how nice he was. He sat me down and explained why my account is high,” Probert said.

When Probert asked how he knew her consumption was high, he replied: “It’s because we work hand in hand with Eskom and eThekwini is under obligation to advise Eskom of everyone’s consumption.” Eskom has refuted this.

Probert bought a R2 500 prepaid electricity meter, which she later realised retailed for around R699, and a R2 000 energy saver, which he said would save her at least 45% on her bill.

A second representative arrived and swiped her credit card for the purchases and she paid a R250 delivery fee. The salesman promised that someone would call a few days later to install the products, but this never happened.

Probert said she realised that she’d erred and the next day her husband visited the company to cancel the deal. However, a staff member speaking through the intercom, advised him that Sustainable Energy had moved and that he was not the first person to arrive looking for them, Probert said.

Probert said she was further shocked when Absa Bank refused to reverse the transaction and she reported the matter to her local police station.

Absa spokesperson Dante Mashile said the bank could not reverse the transaction because Probert had provided the merchant with her card details. “This serves as a contractual agreement between the customer and the merchant,” he said.

Pietermaritzburg pensioner Barbie Burger (78) panicked and accidentally authorised a R2 000 debit, after she allowed a salesman into her home. He offered to rent her a device for R50 a month, which he said would save electricity.

Burger said he then asked to check if her debit card would work in his point of sales device, and attempted to debit her credit card for R17 000, R10 000 and R2 000, which she only realised later, when she saw an SMS from FNB. “The next moment the bank phoned and it was the bank’s fraud department. It was a recorded message saying they suspect fraud, and then you had to punch one or two, whether you had done the transaction and just because I was so shocked I pressed the wrong button,” she said.

Burger lodged a dispute with FNB asking the bank to reverse the transaction. However, head of FNB Card Fraud Charlaine Albertyn said the bank could not reverse the transaction because Burger had authorised it using her PIN and she had received the goods. When I contacted Sustainable Energy on the numbers the consumers had provided a woman answered saying she was “Natalie in reception” but she refused to give me the name of the company she represented.

She said there were 13 companies operating from the premises and insisted that both UTT and Sustainable Energy had moved. I also later spoke to “Alistair” who said the company no longer existed and to “James” who said, “we get a lot of complaints about them but they are not here anymore”.

The Payments Association of South Africa (Pasa) is serious about ensuring merchants do not abuse the card payment system and upon hearing about the latest complaints it took action last week.

Pasa operations executive Eziel Esterhuyzen said the company had again accessed a Mercantile Bank credit card machine after the service was terminated earlier this year. “It went to two sponsored system operators under two different names, a CC and an individual name, and gained access, which was terminated on Friday by Mercantile Bank,” he said. A Mercantile Bank spokesperson said the company wasn’t a client, but had used a Mercantile Bank platform issued by an independent alliance partner that held an agreement with the merchant. He said the merchant, using “completely different client information” had managed to slip past the risk alert to sign an agreement with another alliance partner.

“After consultation with the latter, this merchant was immediately suspended pending further investigations,” he said. “Misrepresentation by merchants poses a significant threat to the South African banking sector and economy and only through collaboration will we find sustainable solutions,” he said.

Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger said Eskom had not commissioned any suppliers to conduct energy assessments and advised consumers against letting salesmen into their homes.

• Send your complaints and compliments to Lyse Comins at

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