Small Business Owner Overpays Utility Bill and Can't Get Refund

NBC 5 turns on the heat and gets thousands of dollars back

A small suburban business owner says he accidentally overpaid on his gas bill for years, but when he called the gas company to discuss his bill, he was told he couldn’t get a refund.

Craig Bricco, who owns a small business in north suburban Zion, bought a new energy efficient furnace a few years ago after his old one failed. He had previously set up a budget plan with North Shore Gas and his bill was automatically paid every month, so he rarely looked at his account. But three years after his purchase, Bricco took a look at his utility bill and realized something was off.

"My daughter would come in once a week and enter the bills in the accounting system. I never looked at them. So I knew it as getting paid," Bricco said.

Turns out, his cost saving furnace was doing its job just fine, but Bricco says North Shore Gas wasn’t. The new furnace was using less energy, costing him less money, but because he was on the budget plan, the same amount --$131 – was automatically being deducted monthly, despite his lower usage. Once Bricco did the math, he realized he had overpaid his utility bill by thousands of dollars.

"I'm like holy cow! They owed me $2,711," Bricco said.

When he called North Shore Gas and asked for his money back, Bricco says he was stunned by the response.

"She says I have to prove I paid them the money. And I just kind of jaw dropped,” Bricco recalled. “What do you mean? You're the ones telling me that."

But Bricco says his conversation was followed by silence.

NBC 5 Responds called both North Shore Gas and watchdog group Citizens Utility Board.

"In terms of a mix-up, this is one of the largest refunds we've ever seen," CUB Director of Communications Jim Chilsen said.

NBC 5 Responds learned that Bricco is not alone. In fact, Illinois regulations address this very topic.

"What the state regulations say is that if the refund owed you is 25 percent more than your average billing amount, then you can get the refund in the form of a check," Chilsen said.

Chilsen also says the onus is on customers to pay close attention to their bills.

"You have to read your bills carefully. It's very tempting to pay that bottom line and consider your bill a necessary evil."

In a statement, North Shore Gas told NBC 5 Responds:

“Customer satisfaction is a top priority for North Shore Gas. In this case we failed to responds in a timely manner to resolve Mr. Bricco’s request. A refund check for the full amount will be issued tomorrow and overnighted to Mr. Bricco to receive on Friday. This unfortunate situation gives us an opportunity to improve our process to ensure this situation does not happen again.”

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