What if you’ve been paying twice as much for your electricity than you actually should’ve been paying?
‘Slamming’ is the illegal practice of switching your electricity supplier without your consent.
In deregulated electricity markets, Alternative Retail Electric Suppliers (ARES) compete against each other to offer customers the most appealing prices and contract terms, in order to attract new customers and/or keep their existing customers.
But in an ocean of competition, there are usually a few sharks. (Actually, slammers give sharks a bad name.)
Switching your electric supplier is easy…almost too easy.
The process is practically unnoticeable. Why? Because no one ever comes to your home to flip a switch – and there’s no disruption of service. It’s more than a bit scary to know that all a slammer has to do is obtain your account number and maybe some other personal information, and then tell your utility company that you’ve decided to select his company as your new supplier.
What’s worse is that the only way for you to tell whether you’ve been slammed is usually by checking your electric bill. Since the supplier’s company name is often listed as nothing more than a single tiny line-item on the bill, slammers can easily take advantage of the fact that a lot of people don’t read their electric bill carefully and just pay whatever amount is on the bottom line.
Slammers have been known to fool customers into paying two times the amount they should be for their electric service. Just imagine how mad you’d be if you discovered you were paying twice as much for your electricity as you needed to for years on end! How much money would that add up to? Maybe you should go and check your electricity bill right now.
How and why does slamming occur, anyway?
Sometimes, slamming occurs as an honest mistake or human error. But the scummy slammers typically earn commissions based on the number of customers they switch to the ARES company they represent. These smooth-talking unethical salespeople are masters of fraud and deception and they love to target smaller businesses, the elderly and customers with limited knowledge of English. They’ll use sneaky tactics to trick customers into giving away their personal information. How do they do it?
One sneaky slammer was cold-calling customers, claiming to work for the utility. He was telling them that they qualified for a special savings rate, and that all they needed to do to claim the lower rate was to confirm their account number over the phone.
Some slammers will even go so far as to pose as door-to-door salespersons. They’ll disguise themselves as representatives of the utility or another supplier, and will try to trick you into showing them a copy of your bill. They’ll say something like, “There might be a mistake on your bill and we’re personally checking to make sure you’re not paying more than you should be.” Unless you’ve called them to come over first, you’re probably better off not opening the door.
You could even get slammed through the mail. Beware of any mailings that offer you gifts, promotions, rebates or other special offers from any ARES, in exchange for your returned signature and/or a copy of your electric bill. Beware of other mailing tricks that try and make you believe that you’ve already signed a contract – with a just a confirmation call to collect your personal information.
Common-Sense Ways to Prevent Slamming
- Never provide any personal information such as your name, signature, address, phone number or utility account number over the phone, online, in the mail or in person; if you’re already with a company, they have all this information on file.
- Always read your electricity bill carefully every month. Be sure to know the name of the electric company that provides your electric service.
- If you are already under contract with an alternative supplier, make sure you know exactly when your contract is supposed to end. Watch out for any strange or suspicious fees on your electric bill. They could be the result of an early termination fee.
- Notify your current electricity supplier immediately if you receive notice to verify an authorized change in your electric service.
- Always ask for all contract and price terms in writing.
- Never sign any document without reading it thoroughly and understanding it.
What can you do if you know you’ve been a victim of slamming?
By the time you discover you’ve been slammed, it’s often too late to get out of the contract without having to pay an early termination fee. Also, you might not be allowed to return to your old supplier for a period of time, depending on your state’s regulations. Be sure to contact your utility immediately with any billing questions or problems.
If you know you’ve been slammed, you may be able to file a complaint with your state’s Commerce Commission or Public Utility Commission, and/or your state’s Attorney General’s Office.
One advantage of working with a certified energy consultant is that your risk of being slammed is practically non-existent. Alternative Utility Services (AUS) checks client utility bills sent to them for any billing errors, suspicious charges or unwarranted service charges.
Have you ever witnessed any electricity slamming? Do you have any stories that could top ours? Share them in the comments!
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