As essential service providers, utility companies are committed to educating the public about the latest scam tactics used to target customers. Sadly, many types of utilities scams occurred before the pandemic and utility scammers are continuing to take advantage of the health crisis and the financial challenges that many are facing.
Scammers often threaten immediate service disconnections. They ask for personal information or demand payments to prevent service interruptions.
Utility scammers have been taking advantage of increased online activities since the pandemic. They are asking for payments over the phone by using digital payment apps, bitcoin, or direct transactions with banking institutions.
Scammers are using tactics to prey on households with tight budgets. Scammers will inform customers that they have overpaid utility bills and are due a refund but first they need to provide their banking information to process the refund. They also may claim that immediate bill payment will result in a discount or that you can make a charitable donation in exchange for a lesser bill payment.
They also are posing as utility employees by claiming the number on the caller ID does not match the utility’s phone number due to the company’s COVID-19 remote work policies.
Customers should know that utilities will never call to demand immediate payment. In addition, they will never ask for personal information over the phone. Utilities also will never ask customers to pay their bills with a gift card or by using a third-party payment app, such as CashApp, Venmo, or Zelle.
Tips to Avoid Utility Scams
If you receive a suspected email, phone call, text, or knock at the door from a possible scammer, please keep in mind the following tips:
Slow down. Scammers typically try to rush customers and will ask for personal information and immediate payment.
Verify. Scammers often pose as utility company employees. If they are in-person, always ask for a company ID. If the scammer is on the phone, make sure they can verify they are with the utility. No matter what, if you are unsure, hang up, close the door, or ignore the email. Then, contact the utility directly by using the information on your most recent bill.
Stop before you act. Think about the information the caller or potential scammer is asking of you. If it seems unsafe or incorrect, rethink the situation and ask questions.
The pandemic has created unique situations for everyone, and it is easy to be caught off guard. Please remember that utility scammers can be extremely sophisticated. For instance, they use strategies that can make customers believe they are not an impostor. No one knows when or how a scammer will appear. It is important for utility customers to understand the types of threats that exist. Utilities and customers must continue to be vigilant and raise awareness. Together, we can #StopScams.
Guest Blog by Monica Martinez, Utilities United Against Scams Executive Director