The Village of Oak Park is warning residents to steer clear of energy providers looking to wrangle in customers by using allegedly fraudulent business practices.
Last month, residents and small businesses were able to start getting their power from an alternative electricity company called Integrys Energy Services, which was hand-picked by the village. By bundling their bills together through "energy choice aggregation," customers started saving some 25 percent each month.
But village officials say that a couple of companies have been going door to door, or calling on the phone, trying to get people to switch to different providers that charge higher rates. Dublin, Ohio-based IGS Energy has allegedly been claiming to be the village's chosen company, according to K.C. Poulos, the sustainability manager for Oak Park.
Village officials have contacted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to keep her office abreast of the alleged fraud, and Oak Park may file a complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commission if it continues.
"What IGS is represented to have done here is really untoward, and according to the attorney general's office, is a material fraud," said Village President David Pope.
According to Poulos, IGS has been contacting customers, in person and by phone, asking them to switch. They don't have a license to solicit here, she said, and they've allegedly been representing themselves as Integrys.
Poulos said that IGS has agreed to stop knocking on doors, but made no such commitment as far as phone calls. The rate that the company is charging is about 1 cent more expensive than the 5.79 cents per kilowatt charge that Oak Parkers are paying through Integrys.
Larry Friedman, vice president of choice markets for IGS, questioned whether his company ever misrepresented itself. Representatives wear hats and shirts, clearly marked with the IGS logo, and they carefully review the details of the contract with each customer over the phone.
"Perhaps there are customers who, for whatever reason and despite best efforts, might walk away confused. I'm not sure," he said. "We share some commonality of letters. Maybe there are a few customers who are confused by that, but I have no way of knowing, frankly. I can assure you that we take every precaution to identify our company."
Friedman said there is no cancelation fee if someone decides to ditch IGS. As for the rate, he said that, when selling to customers, the company compares its price to that of Exelon, which supplies electricity to ComEd, rather than the lower rate that's offered by Integrys.
About 350 people have opted out of the energy aggregation program through the village, which Poulos called "unusually high," and they suspect that they were signing with the IGS and other aggressive energy companies. Those who opted out after Jan. 1 are charged a $50 fee, but Poulos suspected that Integrys won't collect that charge if customers were duped into switching.
"This is not the fault of the consumer, whatsoever, nor should they be penalized for fraudulent actions by a company, so we want to fix this as quickly as possible," Poulos said.