Experts say municipal electric aggregation scams in Illinois may be growing after hundreds of communities have recently approved the systems.
Last week, Mount Prospect issued a warning to their residents about the increasingly common solicitation scam after the village got calls and inquiries about the municipal electric aggregation program, said Marianthi Thanopoulos, a village spokeswoman.
Officials in the Illinois Attorney General’s office say they have been monitoring the rise of similar scams related to municipal aggregation. Spokeswoman Maura Possley said the scam often takes the form of salespeople trying to get a consumer’s ComEd account number. Then, the salesperson will switch the user’s service provider without their knowledge, she said.
“There are more entities that are aggregating than before,” Possley said. “As this is spread to more and more communities, we’ve gotten more calls.”
In Mount Prospect, some solicitors also may be telling residents their current rate is expiring to persuade them to sign up with companies they represent.
Mount Prospect officials called the information being spread by some of the solicitors “completely false” and “intentionally misleading.” The village last year negotiated a power supply rate of 4.65 cents per kilowatt hour, which is good for at least another year, officials said.
Mount Prospect is one of hundreds of municipalities in the state that has negotiated electric rates with suppliers on its own, rather than relying on ComEd. In a municipal electric aggregation program, the utility giant still delivers electricity, issues bills, handles power outages and maintains power lines and meters as normal. But ComEd can charge up to twice as much for users not in an aggregation, officials said.
Dave Hoover, of the Northern Illinois Municipal Electric Collaborative, helped Mount Prospect secure its rate last year and said he’s heard of similar scams in at least 25 other communities in the state. The collaborative has worked with more than a hundred municipalities.
“(Solicitors) can claim any rate they want. In general, aggregation is going to get you the best rate,” Hoover said.
The most aggressive tactic is when a solicitor asks for someone’s ComEd account number, according to Hoover. The solicitor may come to a resident’s door, touting savings, and eventually ask to see the person’s utility bill, he said. Some solicitors ask for the account number over the phone, claiming to be crunching numbers, he said. Once they have the account number, details can be changed without the user’s consent or knowledge.
“I’ve spoke to a number of residents who have given their account numbers to solicitations without the impression that they were being moved,” Hoover said. “The worst-case scenario is that residents may get moved to rates that are higher than the ComEd rate.”
Utility contract terms can vary, so fees could apply to clear things up once the change is discovered, Hoover said.
“If you’re part of an aggregation, be careful. Be careful of your account number,” he said.
The Citizens Utility Board said the electricity aggregation concept is so complicated and new that there could be miscommunication on both sides. Sales people might not be properly trained on all the details and residents may be confused about how things work.
“It has become more confusing to be an electric consumer in Illinois and consumers need to be on guard,” said spokesman Jim Chilsen.
The group launched an informational campaign about electricity aggregation in February in hopes of quashing any exploitation. The utility board gets a few calls every week about it, he said.
“Consumers have to be aware of possible rip-offs out there,” Chilsen said.
The attorney general’s office tells residents not to give out any kind of utility account numbers and to contact local authorities to protect themselves before providing personal information, Possley said.
Hoover also said it is important that people know that the municipalities generally do not call, email or request information for the aggregation. In fact, only users who wish not to be a part of it must respond to the village to opt out of the program.
Officials ask residents to report possible scams by calling the Illinois Attorney General’s consumer hotline at (800) 386-5438