Heating Oil Customer Pay, Get No Fuel

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LLEWELLYN — Some heating oil companies offer you the chance to pre-pay for fuel in the summer, so that if prices spike in the winter, you`re protected.

But what happens if your oil company shuts its doors after you’ve already pre-paid?

Bonnie beach of Llewellyn hopes the rest of the winter is mild so she won`t have to refill her heating oil tank.

She pre-paid more than $1,200 to Felty Oil this summer, to lock in her price.

But when she wanted to top off her tank in October, Felty didn`t deliver.

“That`s when I started to worry,” said Bonnie.

Liberty Oil of Port Carbon delivered instead, and Bonnie says it’s manager said Liberty considered taking over Felty`s business.

But no deal has been signed so bonnie had to pay $428 to top off her tank.

My money is still sitting with Felty,” said Bonnie.  “And i can`t get any more oil, because he`s holding the money.”

Federal Court records show Felty Oil has been in financial trouble before.

It filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and emerged from bankruptcy in 2007.

Felty has not made any filings recently.

But the business appears to be shut down, as the gate to its office in Palo Alto, just outside Pottsville, is locked.

And when we dialed the number for Felty Oil listed on the side of the building, we a got a recorded message claiming the number “has been disconnected.”

Some small, independent oil dealers across our area are struggling.

A few failed.

In 2011, Duke Oil of Paxinos in Northumberland County went bankrupt, leaving several pre-paying customers with nothing.

In 2008, A & B Oil of Gouldsboro, went out of business.

Despite an investigation by the state attorney general’s office 900 pre-paying customers of A & B were unable to get their money back.

“There’s risk,” says Wilkes University Business Professor Tony Liuzzo, who says these examples show how customers should limit, or even eliminate pre-payments to oil companies.

“Be willing to take the risk that the prices will go up, rather than assume the risk of the company going out of business,” advises Liuzzo.

Liuzzo says heating oil distributors in the northeast are struggling because of a down economy, and mild winters where people are conserving more than ever and using less oil.  He adds, thousands of homeowners changing from oil to less expensive fuels.

Bonnie Beach has a wood burning stove in addition to oil heat, and her home has a month’s supply of wood.

She hopes somehow, her $1,200 pre-payment to Felty Oil will be honored.

“I gave him my money so he would not have to wait,” said Bonnie.  “Now it`s my turn.  I think he should step up and say, `Yes, Mrs. Beach, here`s your money back.'”

A spokesman for Liberty Oil says it is still trying to acquire Felty, but cannot guarantee it will go through.

If it does, people like Bonnie Beach will get full credit for the money they pre-paid.

If not,Liberty Oil is considering a plan to sell heating oil at a discount to people who made pre-payments to Felty, and for now have nothing to show for it.