By Larry Teren
It seems like “opting out” has become the preferred method for those who want to confuse and take advantage. Recently, I receive a letter in the mail from a company claiming to be the authorized entitlement to supplying electricity for my condominium apartment. The letter states that the Village of So-and-So has an Electric Aggregation Program and I should be grateful to have the opportunity to participate in it. It also states that I am automatically enrolled in it and that I have to opt out if I still want good old COMED to sell me electricity. Aye, there’s the rub.
It’s not that COMED and I are buddies nor am I receiving from them electricity at ridiculously low rates. It’s just that I don’t like when someone tells me that the rules have changed without asking me first if I want to play along.
What I find kind of suspicious is their statement near the beginning of the letter that I am being contacted because either I am a new resident of the village or a new small business owner. I’m neither. My business is located in another village and I’ve been living here for sixteen years- but, nice try, guys.
I’m also told that unless I opt out, I am automatically enrolled whether I like it or not. And I only have less than three weeks from receipt of the letter to make up my mind. The communique points out three ways to opt out- I can call a toll-free number, visit a website or send in a postcard.
Now, I’m the type of guy who would rather click a website and anonymously act upon something instead of have to talk to a foreign speaking person over the phone who wants to know my name, address, phone number, date of birth, color of eyes, what I had for supper last night- you name it. I also am leery of sending in a post card that is not sealed in an envelop for fear it will get stuck in a post office machine, get shredded and never get to its destination. So, I opt (yeah, exactly) to try the website address.
I open the good old Google Chrome browser and type in the url provided. Naturally (I say this because of my string of recent good luck) the site does not exist. It instead displays a message that indicates something such as “404 oops. This page does not exist. Please click on home page and find where you want to navigate.”
Reluctantly, I call the 800 number and Brian answers. I explain to him that the url does not exist. He tests it and agrees. He also asks me for my identification number. I give him my COMED account number and he says that it is not what he wants. He wants my account number with the new supplier. I say, “how should I know? I don’t have an account with you. I’m trying to avoid having an account with you.” He says he understands. (Thankfully, he doesn’t ask me how the weather is. I guess it is because he is somewhere in America and probably gets the Weather Channel on his cable outlet.) He tells me to mail in the postcard and that he will find out why the website isn’t working and when it is up, he will add my name to the list to opt out as a backup in case the postcard gets lost in the mail. (I think he knows about postcards, too, huh?)
Still, I think the whole thing is kind of insulting that I have to opt out to not be switched to someone who is not even going to deliver the electricity or bill me for it. All they are going to do is broker it and make a profit. The Village claims that they have saved them and residents close to 1.5 million dollars since its inception. Sure- collectively they may have and I’m sure the Village is billed for a lot more electricity in one year than I will use in ten years. But, the savings are negligible for me. Besides, there is no guarantee that they will always be cheaper than COMED. And I don’t like to automatically be changed and told I have to opt out. (I know- how many times do I have to say it.)
I next drive over to the Village office and speak to a customer service person. She looks perplexed at first, so she turns to someone else and then says that the electricity aggregation company has been running this program for a few years. She says that most likely I have forgotten that I have opted out a few years ago and they are once again trying to convince those like me to get into the program.
A con game is still a con game even if it appears to save you a bit of money. In a ponzi scheme, some investors make money- they are usually the ones who get paid off with the profits coming in from other suckers. Anytime you force someone to opt out instead of asking them to opt in- it is a con game.
The unaffordable health care act is the new con game and unfortunately there is no opt out and no other options. (Yes, some do benefit from it.) You can pay the five thousand dollar fine for having no coverage which is not much of a choice. Or you can pay the ridiculous premium increases with higher deductibles and hope you don’t get sick from it. Or you can pay less and find yourself in a new network of doctors who have no charts of your medical history. Or maybe it will be cheaper to totally opt out, if you know what I mean.