Utility-Related Scams: Slamming and Cramming
Have you reviewed your utility bills lately? It is important to identify charges or companies you do not recognize on your utility bill to avoid unwanted charges. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), the residential utility consumer advocate, offers information to avoid becoming a victim of slamming or cramming.
What is Slamming and Cramming?
Slamming occurs when your telephone carrier or energy provider is switched to another provider without your authorization. Cramming occurs when a telephone, electric or natural gas company charges you for a service you did not request or authorize.
Avoid being Slammed
During a telemarketing or in-person sales interaction with an energy marketer or telephone company, it is important to not share your account number or show your utility bill. This is the information needed to switch the service without your authorization.
Whether a salesperson approaches you by phone, mail, the internet, or door-to-door, they must receive your permission to change your electric or natural gas supplier by one of the following methods:
- Verbal confirmation in telephone enrollment, like saying “yes” to a telemarketer;
- Your signature, like signing a contract with fine print; or
- Third-party verification, like calling a phone number after signing a contract to confirm you understand the contract’s terms and conditions.
Before your electric or natural gas supplier can be switched, your utility should mail you a notification of the switch. You can cancel the switch within seven days, without penalty. Your utility is responsible for keeping records of services and companies you have authorized.
You may see different suppliers listed on your natural gas bill. If you selected your utility’s Standard Choice Offer, “Standard Choice Offer” or “SCO” should always appear on your bill. If the SCO is your chosen rate and is written on your bill— regardless of the supplier—you have not been slammed.
Many electric and natural gas consumers believe they were slammed but were unaware that their local government had enrolled residents in a government aggregation program. Government aggregation is a community supply option for electric and natural gas consumers, and it is usually done through “opt-out” enrollment. Aggregation is approved by residents via a ballot issue, and if the consumer does not opt-out, they are automatically enrolled. For more information about aggregation programs, visit www.occ.ohio.gov/aggregation. If you have selected a supplier or carrier, the company name should appear on your bill.
If you have been slammed
If you are a victim of slamming, or you see an unwanted company on your electric, natural gas, or telephone bill, contact that company to challenge the change. You should also contact the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and your utility and ask to be returned to your original agreement. Ask for all charges related to the unwanted switch to be removed from your bill. Learn more about energy marketers from OCC’s fact sheet: Energy Choice 101.
Electric, natural gas and telephone utility companies are required to switch you from the slamming company back to your utility company without payment penalties. Your account should be credited for any switching fees. You are not required to pay the alleged slamming company until it has been determined that the switch was authorized.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides additional protections for telephone consumers. If your telephone service has been slammed, you do not have to pay the slammed charges for the first 30 days of service. You also do not need to pay for service with your authorized telephone carrier for 30 days. After 30 days you must resume paying for your service at your authorized carrier’s rates, not the slamming rates. Consumers who paid a slamming carrier can also be reimbursed for half of what was paid.
When your utility bill includes charges for a service you did not request, you may have been crammed. Charges for these services are usually small, vague and easy to overlook. Examples of typical cramming charges include:
- “Pass through charges” not authorized in the contract;
- “Utility line warranty,” or insurance, you did not authorize;
- Calls placed to unfamiliar numbers; or
- Other services explained in general terms, such as “calling plan,” “internet services,” “membership service,” or “monthly fee.”
Avoid being Crammed
It is important to review your utility bills each month. If you spot charges for unauthorized services, contact the company that placed the charges on your bill and ask that they be removed. Also, contact your utility and ask that the charges be removed.
Report Slamming and Cramming
If your complaint is not resolved after calling your utility, direct your complaint to the PUCO at 1-800-686-7826. You can file a complaint with the PUCO’s online complaint form at www.puco.ohio.gov. You can also contact OCC with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1‐877‐742‐5622.
Complaints about slamming and cramming can also be directed to the Ohio Attorney General’s office at www.ohioprotects.org or by calling 1-800- 282-0515. Lastly, the FCC responds to consumer complaints and questions about slamming and cramming for telephone. Contact the FCC at 1-888-225- 5322 or file a complaint on their website at www.consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.
To avoid these scams, pay careful attention to your bills. If you have questions about your bill, contact your utility, OCC, or the PUCO. The OCC has more information about billing charges, energy suppliers, telephone carriers and consumer scams at OCC’s website, www.occ.ohio.gov. For more information about common utility scams, see OCC’s “How to Avoid Utility-Related Scams and Fraud” fact sheet.
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