By Julie Soderna, General Counsel
One night this summer, I got the call I was waiting for: my third telemarketing pitch from an alternative electric supplier in two weeks.
It started out the same way as the other automated messages: “This is an apology call from your electric provider—you have been overcharged by a third-party electric supplier. Press 1 to get your refund and a 30% discount on your electric bill.”
Then a man picked up the call and said he was from a supplier certified by the Illinois Commerce Commission and wanted to offer me a lower rate on my utility bill. He asked for my account number. While I had no intention of signing up, I was interested in getting more information. So I asked him questions about the offer.
He said Switch Energy, was offering a fixed rate of 7.49 cents for 12 months.
But I said my ComEd bill shows a price of 6.473 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)–his rate was about 16 percent higher. He then pointed me to the customer charge on the delivery section of the bill. He said the charge with Switch Energy would be $0.
By the way, that’s completely wrong. Remember, if you switch to an alternative supplier you don’t stop getting a ComEd bill, because ComEd still has to charge you for delivering the electricity to your home. So you don’t avoid paying ComEd’s customer charge (and all the other fees on the delivery side of your bill) by going with an alternative supplier.
The pitchman kept emphasizing that Switch Energy is “a legitimate supplier certified by the ICC.” He also insisted that ComEd does not supply my energy. (Not true!) I tried not to challenge his statements too much. (Not easy! I played along to get more details.)
He said about 10 times that I was not going to sign up today—that I would not sign up over the phone because no one can do that. I would have to get verified to get the offer, and then ComEd would send me a paper that I sign and send back. (This also isn’t true.)
“If you don’t sign the paper from ComEd, then you don’t sign up. Simply decline—no obligation,” he said, adding that I wouldn’t have to pay ComEd’s customer charge (WRONG, again) and that there were 52 suppliers in the U.S. (WRONG–there are more than 52 suppliers in Illinois alone).
So, I ended up giving him my account number. (Don’t try this at home–I was just doing some detective work.) He verified my name and address, but he clearly had that information in front of him. I asked how he already had my information, and he said it was because they are a certified supplier, which is scary!
He then told me he was transferring me to the verification department. He told me what would be asked of me (my name, address and to confirm my account number) and that I would just need to verify that information and say yes, and then I would wait for the letter to come, at which point I would sign the letter, send it back and then be switched. At that point, he told me I’m “such a nice and understanding lady J.” (I haven’t heard that in a long while so I took it!)
He sent me to the third-party verification (TPV), which was automated but seemed to say all the right stuff: ComEd is still my utility, confirming that I understand it’s a third party supplier, etc., but didn’t actually tell me the rate. So when it asked me if I wanted to sign up, I responded no, which kicked me back to the same telemarketer.
Now, the guy was getting irritated because I didn’t pass the TPV. He told me, “Just let [the TPV representative] speak and then say yes. [The TPV representative] will tell you at the end that you’ll receive paperwork after 1-2 days. Just say yes.”
I then decided to make the big reveal and told him I knew what he was saying was not true. He argued with me for several minutes, insisting that I was wrong and he was right (this happened on another call last year), and again sent me back to the TPV. That’s when I hung up.
He called back twice. I didn’t answer the first time, and when I finally did answer, the “nice lady” gloves were off. I firmly explained to him the misinformation he was spreading and I told him I’m an attorney. He kept defending himself and saying the same thing over and over until he finally hung up.
Exhausting. And think of how many people go through that every day?