The Illinois Citizens Utility Board has warned of several scams that take advantage of utility consumers.
The board was created by state law in 1984 to advocate for Illinoisans in dealing with utility companies, and its website said it has saved the state’s residents $20 billion by stopping rate increases. The group is not affiliated with a political party, but was created by an Illinois law.
Among the scams the board noted in a June 30 email to consumers was a maintenance plan, where water companies offer a protection plan to people that is often expensive and frequently goes unused.
“American Water’s Homeowner Services division markets so-called “protection programs” through several subsidiaries, including Pivotal Home Solutions, Nicor Home Solutions and American Water Resources.
Nicor Home Solutions was once owned by Nicor Gas, the utility service, which NBC 5 Chicago reported had caused a lot of confusion and frustration for customers who saw the “sneaky fees” on their gas bills and were dismayed to find that it wasn’t a utility charge.
Protection plans may look attractive on the surface, but the fine print reveals that they too often turn out to be more restrictive than helpful and “more money than they’re worth,” the board said in its press release.
“Any money you pay into a plan is nonrefundable, even if you never have maintenance or repair issues,” said Bryan McDaniel, director of governmental affairs for the Citizens Utility Board. “Essentially, you could be paying anywhere from $3 to $50 per month for years and never use the service. You’re better off putting aside some money in a utility emergency fund—at least then you’re in control of how and when you use the money.” More details can be found by clicking here.
Another scam is alternative energy providers promising to save customers money. Two of the major power companies in Illinois are Commonwealth Edison (known as ComEd) and Ameren. According to the email and citing the Attorney General’s office, the other power companies have cost Illinoisans $870 million since 2015.
Finally, the email warned about robocalls, and said there has been an increase in robocalls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In a survey this spring, nearly 25 percent of respondents said they had received an uptick in robocalls since the COVID-19 outbreak,” the email said. “37% of respondents said they had yelled at or used bad language with a robocaller. (We recommend you just hang up.) Typically, at the top of the list of scams are imposters claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.”
More resources for scam prevention can be found on the Citizens Utility Board website.