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CHICAGO — A major change is coming to electric service for hundreds of thousands of Chicago residents next month when the city’s power deal with Constellation Energy expires.

It will send 700,000 customer back to ComEd and will also give alternative power suppliers A chance to sign up some new customers.

But how do you know if you’re if you’re really saving money or being ripped-off?

The practice of “slamming” – where and electric or gas supplier switches your service without getting your approval first –  makes it difficult for customers to tell the difference.

Jim Chilsen is the communications director for CUB, the Citizens Utility Board. He says “slamming” is one of the most common complaints CUB receives. He says many times it happens with a high pressure sales pitch over the phone, by mail or at your door.

“The typical scenario is somebody comes to your door and says they’ve got this unbelievable deal for you and ‘Can we see your electric or gas bill because we want to make sure that you qualify for this deal,’” Chilsen says. “And they get your account number and then they can switch you.  And that’s a big no-no.”

He says in order to avoid being tricked into signing up for a bad deal you should ask questions:

  • What is the rate they’re offering and how does it compare to ComEd, Peoples Gas or Nicor.
  • Is the rate a variable one that will change on a monthly basis or is it fixed for a certain period of time?
  • Is there a monthly fee?
  • Is there an exit fee for getting out of the contract early?

CUB says so far this year,  by working with the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Illinois Attorney General’s office, it has gotten $570,000 dollars in refunds for customer of alternative electric suppliers for deceptive practices.

Some last quick tips: Do your homework, check rates, read the fine print and ask questions before you give over any information.