Governor Pat Quinn today continued his long history of fighting for consumers by signing four new laws that will increase protections for consumers. The new laws ban false phone charges known as "cramming," lower utility costs for consumers and help them resolve billing and credit issues to improve their credit scores. The governor was joined by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, legislators and members of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), the consumer rights watchdog group founded by Governor Quinn 30 years ago.
"When everyday people work together for the common good, we can improve our state," Governor Quinn said. "We need to keep fighting for consumer rights in Illinois and ensure those rights are protected from those who would take advantage of them."
House Bill 5211, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) and Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), would ban third-party vendors from charging customers for unwanted services, a practice known as cramming, starting Jan. 1, 2013. The bill was an initiative of the Attorney General's office, which found vendors using deceptive sales pitches and placing unauthorized charges on consumers' phone bills for things they never intended to buy including calling cards, voice mail service, credit repair services, extended warranties and toll-free numbers for free long distance service.
Most often, these charges range from $10 to $45 dollars and go undetected because consumers do not pay attention to all the details in their phone bills. According to the Attorney General's Office, phone bill "cramming" is a $2 billion a year business. An estimated 15 to 20 million American households receive at least 300 million third-party charges on their bills each year. Only about one out of every 20 cramming victims becomes aware of the charges.
"Today we can finally put an end to a pervasive scam that has allowed phone companies to rake in $2 billion a year by "cramming' charges on subscribers' bills for unwanted and unused services," Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. "Far too many consumers have opened their monthly phone bills to find bogus charges they never authorized. I applaud the governor for his support of this law to stop to our phone numbers being used as credit cards by scammers."
"This is an important measure to save consumers from hassle," said Rep. Burke. "This new law will prevent lots of businesses, nonprofits and everyday citizens from encountering this practice."
"No one should have to pay for services they don't want and didn't order," said Sen. Koehler. "The fact that "cramming' scam artists target seniors and other vulnerable Illinois residents makes me especially proud that we are outlawing this practice."
Governor Quinn also signed three additional laws to require utilities to notify credit-reporting bureaus when billing issues have been resolved and allow townships to aggregate power purchasing, which will increase competition and lower costs. The new laws are designed to lower utility costs for consumers and help them resolve billing and credit issues.
House Bill 5025, sponsored by Rep. Joe Lyons (D-Chicago) and Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) will help consumers resolve negative action on their credit scores by requiring public utilities to notify credit reporting agencies when a customer has paid off their outstanding balances in full. This measure will allow utility customers to be more quickly relieved of pressure from collection agencies and help them improve their credit scores. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.
Senate Bill 3170 sponsored by Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), allows townships to participate in electrical aggregation the same way counties and municipalities can under current law. Aggregation allows for greater group energy purchasing, which increases competition and lowers costs for consumers. According to the Illinois Commerce Commission, more than 90 municipalities have become power aggregators since 2010, which has allowed for greater consumer savings. The law goes into effect immediately.
Senate Bill 3811, sponsored by Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) protects the ability of certain groups to continue to benefit from "net metering," which allows customers who generate their own renewable energy to sell excess power back to an electricity provider. The new law takes into account the increased aggregation and alternative energy sources more Illinois communities are now using. The measure provides that net metering customers will be treated equally regardless of the competitiveness of their local energy market. The law goes into effect immediately.