Surge protector's exclusions make it a dud, homeowner says - KMSP-TV

Surge protector's exclusions make it a dud, homeowner says

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

You can't see the players, but it's clear this family's favorite team is charging down the field and is just about to score. Just then, just as the fans' eyes widen, the screen goes blank.

Then an announcer speaks.

"Hear that? Yeah, it was a power surge getting to your big screen TV," he says.

The episode is an ad for Tampa Electric's Zap Cap, a surge protection system. TECO's monthly bills tout the $7.95 per month service, which includes a unit that attaches directly to the meter, as "peace of mind." It also includes a warranty for replacement.

But FOX 13 has discovered many exclusions and limitations to the Zap Cap program.

BLIP OR SURGE?

Glen Coleman bought an automatic chlorinator to take the fuss out of cleaning his backyard oasis.

"It's relatively maintenance free," he said.

And to protect his investment, Coleman also signed up for the Zap Cap.

But his electronic chlorinator wound up fried -- twice. To his surprise, his claim for reimbursement was denied -- twice.

"I'm left with about a thousand dollars in expenses," he said.

We asked TECO for an explanation. TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said Coleman's claims could not be paid because his power did not surge, it blipped on and off.

"It is not the same as surge," she said. Jacobs said TECO engineers defined a surge only as a spike greater than 240 volts.

Coleman was perplexed at the distinction between a blip and a surge, especially considering the depiction in the TV commercial.

"I had no idea," Coleman said.

Even if Glen Coleman's power had surged, we discovered his claim would have been denied on other grounds.

ELECTRONICS EXCLUDED

A line found in the warranty claim form reads: "The warranty excludes all well, well pumps, and supplementary pump equipment and all stand-alone ‘electronic equipment' using microchip microprocessor or transistor technology, such as but not limited to computers, televisions, DVD players/recorders, and Security Systems."

Although the Zap Cap commercial clearly shows a television, the warranty specifically excludes them, as well as other equipment, like Coleman's chlorinator.

TECO's Jacobs explained that the Zap Cap is a two-layer system, and that warranty coverage of televisions (and other indoor electronics) also requires an interior surge protector.

Pressed on the matter, TECO acknowledged that the interior surge protector (which customers can purchase on their own) carries a separate warranty and does -not- require the $7.95 fee.

"That was misleading," Coleman said.

Coleman criticized the Zap Cap advertising. But TECO said it is fair.

"We are clear in our marketing," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the warranty on the outdoor meter unit is intended only to cover appliances such as air conditioners, clothes washers and dryers, as well as those in the kitchen -- but not microwave ovens.

TECO told us nearly 40,000 customers pay $7.95 per month for Zap Cap protection. When we asked how profitable the Zap Cap is, TECO declined to answer, saying the business is unregulated.

LIGHTNING NOT COVERED

As we began examining TECO's marketing materials, we discovered an animation on the Zap Cap portion of the TECO website that depicts a bolt of lightning striking a home. And on its monthly bills, TECO warns customers that "No one can predict when a high voltage surge will strike your home."

But one important caveat is missing: The Zap Cap does not cover lightning. Yet, nowhere on the Zap Cap pamphlets or in the Zap Cap commercial did we find any indication that lightning, perhaps the biggest threat to Floridians' electronics, is not covered.

CHANGES COMING

After asking pointed and often highly technical questions about the specifics of the Zap Cap program, TECO announced it will be changing its marketing materials. First to go was the lightning animation.

"To avoid further confusion, we have pulled that animation from our website," Jacobs said.

Next, Jacobs said the wording in the billing ad will change.

"From this day forward, the word ‘strike' will not be included in bills," she said.

TECO said customers can call at any time to inquire about what is covered and what is not covered.

SUDDENLY, A REFUND

For months, Glen Coleman has gotten nowhere with TECO. His claims were denied, politely, yet repeatedly.

Then, suddenly this week, TECO provided Coleman with a $650 refund.

"I'm really, really grateful," he said. "I think this is a wonderful resolution. I never would have gotten the level of attention that I think [FOX 13] obtained."

Even if he'd received less money, Coleman said he felt obligated to speak up and inform the nearly 40,000 other Zap Cap customers. As for surge protection being unregulated, Coleman has filed a complaint with the Florida Public Service Commission demanding oversight.

"It requires some awareness now," he said. "And I would not have had that without you."

ZAP CAP IS DEAD AFTER ONE USE

We learned one more important piece of information about the Zap Cap: it works only once. TECO acknowledged that the Zap Cap is a single-use device. After the first surge, it is useless and must be replaced.

TECO says it swaps Zap Cap units for free, and has done so "hundreds" of times.

But the onus is on the consumer to ensure the Zap Cap is actually effective. Jacobs said the only way a customer will know whether their Zap Cap is working is to inspect it. If the red light is on, it's working; if it's off, it's worthless.

Asked how often customers should examine their $7.95 per month Zap Cap, Jacobs suggested a monthly check.

"When you receive your power bill," she said.

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