CONSUMERS: Pity the Suppliers

A Detroit man files for a loan with the Dial Financial Corp.: $600 to pay his overdue fuel bill. The Georgia Power Co.'s Atlanta switchboard hums with a record 70,000-plus calls a month, mostly from hard-pressed customers complaining about the jump in utility charges. In St. Louis, Cleo Starks, 40, marches down to the Laclede Gas Co., her $300 fuel bill wadded in her fist, and punches the daylights out of Inez Paoletti at the customer service desk. "I don't know what happened," Starks told police. "My mind just snapped."

Consumers are reacting to high-rise fuel costs—heating bills have doubled...

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