Cleveland — No doubt your energy bill has increased with all these hot days. But have you paid attention to the charges...or the companies listed on your bill? You might be paying for services you didn't authorize because of two popular scams.
They’re called Slamming and Cramming. Slamming is when your energy supplier is switched without your authorization. Cramming is when a company charges you for a service you didn't request.
It starts with someone at your door, or a flyer in your mailbox, with an offer to sell you electricity--for a song. They’ll go over the details and some will assure you that you can cancel at any time, says the Office of the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel, a utility advocacy group.
What they don't say is that canceling may come with penalties.
And some companies have variable rates, meaning they can change the cost whenever they want, so you can kiss any savings good bye.
Then there are sales people who aren't who they say they are.
"They look very official. They've got the orange vest. They've got the clipboard,” described Shawn Goodwin, who almost fell victim to a scam.
A light went on for him when a salesman asked to see his electricity bill.
"I realized that if he was in partnership with my electric company they would probably already have that information," he said.
Those are often the ones who will switch you to their company without your approval called “slamming,” which is illegal.
But something called “cramming” is also against the law. Even legitimate companies are accused of doing it.
"When you call they give you the run around,” said Cleveland resident Elizabeth Hirko. “They don't give you any answer. They just say it's through the government."
Hirko suddenly noticed a charge on her Cleveland Public Power Bill called an "environmental and ecological adjustment,” which the city has declined to explain. Now, there’s a class action lawsuit over it.
"It was not adequately disclosed to customers on their bill and it wasn't for recovering costs that the ordinances permit the city to recover,” said attorney Jack Landskroner who filed the suit.
The City of Cleveland provided the following statement regarding the class action lawsuit: “The city of Cleveland is confident all customer charges were applied appropriately. The Class Action Notice is a standard part of the class action process and was coordinated between both parties involved in this case. Since the litigation is still pending, we cannot comment further at this time.”But even if you're not crammed or slammed...review your bill and compare plans on sites like the Ohio Consumers Council, which can help keep you from getting shocked.
"I've stopped getting surprised by what people do,” said Goodwin. “If people will eat a Tide Pod, I'm sure people will sign up for some bad electricity supply."
Now there are government aggregation programs, when your municipality buys its electricity or natural gas for residents in bulk. Usually, you have to opt-out of the program or else you're automatically enrolled.
To file a complaint over your Utility Company:
Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
For more information on your energy bill:
Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.