Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Better Business Bureau Alerts Local Schools; Targets of Utility Scheme




Better Business Bureau Alerts Local Schools; Targets of Utility Scheme


BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU® NEWS RELEASE

Central IL (August 14, 2019) Many schools are days away from opening their doors to hundreds of children as the 2019 school year begins. Registration, schedules, menus, supply lists, class lists are just some examples of reasons that school Administrators might not look into a scheme coming over their fax.

Chris Landstrom of Twin City Energy Services of Bloomington Illinois and BBB Accredited since 2012, contacted the Better Business Bureau about a common utility scheme targeting local schools. According to Landstrom, who has been in business since 2011, "It's the time of year this kind of scheme switches gears from targeting business to targeting busy schools."

Here is how it works:

The business or school may initially receive a voice mail from a non descriptive company indicating either there has been a problem with the electric charges on the utility bill or an issue with supply charges then requests a call back. Later the school or business then receives a vague fax, requesting a call. The scammer is hoping to change the caller's current utility provider to another provider, unbeknownst to the caller. This means the caller is likely breaching a current contact and is not aware of the terms of this new provider's contract; the rate and length of time before the rate may change.

"The basis of the scheme is misleading and deceptive business practices", said Jessica Tharp, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Illinois. "The client (school or business) is led to believe they are communicating with their current service provider, and renewing an agreement in which they are already know the terms and conditions, when in fact they are not."

"I've seen this scheme play out locally before. People need to be cautious because there are so many times clients are not even aware they have agreed to switch companies. In some cases it can cost thousands of dollars to unwind a company or school from the financial position of a current contract with a provider." said Landstrom.

Today BBB received reports of two schools in Ford County receiving this fax, hoping to generate the same result. BBB suspects many other schools in Central Illinois have received a similar letter. During the course of drafting this release, BBB received a fax as well. After calling the phone number listed on the fax 877-404-5801, the representative claimed to be working for Energy Professionals. BBB of Central Illinois is working with the BBB in Clearwater Florida to develop a report.




BBB offers the following Tips for Schools and Businesses to avoid being a victim of this scheme:
For commercial consumers, there are options for the purchasing of your natural gas and or electric needs. Below are some points to know what to look for when looking at other options than what your local utility charges you for your commodity needs.

·     Your local utility will never call you over the phone or stop by your business to ask you for a copy of your utility bill: they already have this information. Be careful of what information you provide someone over the phone. I have worked with many commercial consumers over the years to unwind contracts that took place over the phone and the consumer got slammed (signed up unknowingly) and did not realize it. When companies call you, be careful of what information you supply to them over the phone. I have seen consumers slammed and signed up with a supplier that called them. Just remember that if someone calls and sounds like they are the utility, they are likely just trying to get you to give them your account information to sign you up for service. Don’t be afraid to ask them to send you information in the mail so you can review it first, but still do not give them your account information unless you feel secure with the information they are providing you.
·     If you know that your business has been slammed, please file a complaint with the local Better Business Bureau, the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Attorney General. The only way that suppliers will stop doing this is by reporting them and filing complaints against them. 
·     Be aware of emails you receive from suppliers or brokers claiming to be from the renewal department of your current utility company. Make sure you are talking to a representative from your current company, not a salesperson trying to attain your business
·     Know the terms of your current contract. It is the best practice for businesses to have this information readily available. By signing another contract that overlaps your current contract can occur a big unwind fee either from your current supplier or the contract that was just signed. When signing a contract for either the natural gas or the electric this is a financial hedge that is made and is susceptible to fees to unwind that position.
·     About 90% of all supplies and brokering companies will try to sell an all-in commodity rate product to you the consumer. The majority of all companies in this industry would rather try to sell you this product rather than looking to see what product would work best for your company. A reputable supplier or brokering company would sit down with you to see what you are currently doing and analyze your data to recommend the best product for your business.
·     When it comes to all-in commodity rates on the electric, note that an all-in rate is not really an all-in rate. All supplier contracts have a term in their contract called “Change in Law”, this allows a supplier to pass through any additional cost onto you the consumer in the event that one of the tariff charges of the commodity goes up higher than what was expected when you signed this contract. A supplier will add any additional fees to the price being presented to you as an insurance policy, however if one of these charges go up dramatically then they can pass that onto you. The tariff charges of the commodity here in Illinois include: line loss, ancillary, transmission, capacity and renewable charges. Please note that effective June 1, 2019 the renewable charges, (RPS), will be not charged by the supplier anymore, but they will be charged by the local utility company on their monthly charges for delivery. 
·     Contact your local Better Business Bureau office about a supplier that you are looking at to see they are a reputable company to work with.

BBB urges everyone to report scam attempts, even if you didn’t lose money, to BBB Scamtracker.



Better Business Bureau
BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.

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