In the last week, two stories have emerged out of Texas about retail electric providers engaged in deceptive and misleading practices – one included accusations of slamming while the other pointed to electric pricing offers that seemed to be too good to be true.
In light of these headlines – and in line with Think Energy’s commitment to being a responsible, transparent retail electric provider – we’d like to explain a few of these practices in greater detail and provide you with some key insights on what you should do if you think you’ve been deceived by an energy supplier.
So there’s slamming…
And no, we’re not talking about a basketball slam dunk. Slamming is far from a win for energy users. But what exactly constitutes slamming?
Slamming is the unscrupulous tactic of signing up energy users for service without their knowledge or authorization. In most cases, consumers don’t find out they’ve even fallen victim to this practice until they get an energy bill from the new supplier.
Sounds simple to spot, right? In Texas, the answer is yes. ERCOT sends you a postcard when a switch is initiated. But even if you miss that, energy bills are generated by suppliers and sent directly to consumers, so it’s easy to see when you get a bill from a new supplier.
But in other deregulated markets, such as Pennsylvania, bills are generated by the local utility, and the supplier’s charges appear as a single line item on the bill. At first glance, the bill may appear to be the same as it has always been. Consumers will have to look closely at the supplier line item fees before noticing whether slamming has occurred.
…and then there’s cramming (and the like).
Cramming essentially constitutes any unauthorized charge on your energy bill.
In all deregulated markets, retail electricity suppliers must inform you of services they provide and the related charges, and they must obtain your consent before any such related fees are applied to monthly bills. Unauthorized charges are illegal, and consumers are not required to pay them, so watch your bill closely to make sure there are no unauthorized fees.
Tips for preventing slamming and cramming.
While no one has a one-size-fits-all strategy for preventing deceptive practices from occurring in the first place, there are several things you can do to protect yourself as a consumer.
First and foremost, choose a retail electric supplier with a reputation for delivering honest and transparent pricing. The local Better Business Bureau chapter and the state’s public utilities commission can be great resources in vetting suppliers and identifying the most reputable providers in your area.
Second, trust your gut. If an offer looks like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, the lowest price per kWh may not always lead to the lowest monthly payment or the lowest payments over the term of your contract.
And that brings us to our third tip: Read, read, read! Read every single line of your energy agreement – including the clauses and fine print – before you sign it. Then read your electric bill every month to stay on top of any changes in charges or suppliers.
What to do if you’ve been slammed or crammed.
If you’ve been slammed, you should contact the unauthorized retail electric provider immediately. Ask for proof if the supplier insists that you consented to switching your service to them. Similarly, if you’ve been crammed, ask the supplier to give proof that you agreed to the unauthorized charges.
Meanwhile, pay all undisputed charges on time. Electric service cannot be disconnected for non-payment of disputed charges. And your credit will not be affected by non-payment of disputed charges, unless you do not pay the charges if they are later found to be valid.
If the company cannot supply a copy of the authorization for switching service or agreeing to extra fees, you should file a complaint with the consumer protection division of your public utility commission. Here is the contact information of public utility commissions in the states served by Think Energy.