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Slamming And Your Home Energy Bills

Recently, an I've Been Mugged reader wrote asking me about what to do with their home energy bill. The reader was concerned that they had been "slammed" -- their energy supplier had been switched without their approval. When thinking about situations like this, it is important for consumers to understand your rights first.

Each state in the USA has a Public Utility Commission (PUC) or state agency to govern and regulate which companies are licensed to sell energy (e.g., electricity, natural gas). So, to understand your rights a good first step is the PUC website for the state where you live.

I'll use the state where I live as an example. In Massachusetts, some private companies are licensed to sell only electricity, some only gas, and some both. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) provides the lists of licensed energy sellers in Massachusetts. Obviously, this is a list consumers would use to verify any private company selling energy in the state, especially door-to-door sales people.

The same EEA website describes consumers' various rights about energy services. For example, the "Cooling Off Period" describes the length of time consumers can change their mind after switching to a new energy service provider:

"Your choice of a competitive power supplier will not take effect for at least three business days. Should you change your mind during that three day period, you will not incur any charges."

The site also describes consumers' rights about slamming:

"A competitive power supplier may not switch you to its service without your consent. Your consent must take the form of either: 1) a written letter of authorization signed by you; or 2) your oral statement to an independent third party, such as a separate verification company. If you are switched without your authorization, you may file a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy by calling 1-800-392-6066."

Historically, slamming happened a lot with phone services, but lately it can happen with energy services, too. In 2011, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) fined gas marketer Energy America with a $400,000 penalty for customers it "slammed." While some companies approach consumers at home, others perform phone solicitations.

Before accusing a company of slamming your energy service, I would first check with other members in the home, or a landlord, to see if somebody else signed an order to switch service. Then, I would contact the new energy supplier to get the sales person's name and a copy of that new-service order.

If slamming is still a concern, other steps I might perform in order:

  1. Check the website of my existing energy supplier to see what they advise about slamming
  2. Check my state's PUC website to understand my rights and what they advise about slamming
  3. File a complaint with the PUC in the state where I live
  4. File a police report with local law enforcement, since it is fraud to forge another person's signature
  5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
  6. Consult with an attorney to see what other options there may be for consumers

Having difficulty finding the website for your state's PUC? This list may help.


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