Business Consumer Alliance wants to warn utility customers of recent utility disconnection scams. Con artists are calling, pretending to be from a utility company, threatening to shut off utilities unless the customer pays them by gift card or wire transfer. And they’re not just targeting households. Businesses have also reported receiving calls threatening to shut off utilities to their business if they don’t pay within an hour. If you get a similar call, text, or email—it’s a scam.
Calls like this can be scary, especially when the person on the other end of the line is threatening. Instead of acting in haste, take time to consider what the person is telling you and verify that you have a balance due. Utility companies send written disconnection notices before they shut off service. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, electric utility companies in all 50 states have a moratorium on shut offs. If they ask you to pay by gift card, wire transfer, or any hard to cancel or difficult to trace payment method, it is a scam. Report it to your utility company immediately.
Here are the red flags to look out for:
- Communications claiming you have an unpaid balance although you’re current on payments.
- They want you to pay using unusual payment methods (gift card, money transfer, bank-to-bank transfer, Bitcoin, etc.).
- They threaten to press charges or to sue you if you don’t make immediate payment.
- The call comes at night, over the weekend, or on a holiday.
- They claim they can connect you to federal assistance programs if you give them your personal information.
How to Avoid Utility Scams
You can verify your account balance and status by calling your utility company directly or logging into your account. This will immediately let you know if you have a past due balance or not. Check your bill for your utility company’s contact information. Most companies allow payments to be made by mail or through a secured website. Before paying online, check that the website starts with “https://”.
Be skeptical of anyone asking you to pay right away before you have the time to verify the information they are giving. Remember that scammers are out to get your information or money. Protect yourself and avoid giving out your personal and financial information to anyone you have not verified first.
Keep in mind that scammers often use software to spoof phone numbers to make it appear that they are calling you from a legitimate business. Don’t be fooled by caller ID. If you suspect that the call is a scam or something seems suspicious, hang up and call your utility company directly. If the callers persist in contacting you, tell them you will report them promptly and disconnect the call.
In addition to reporting the scam to your utility company, file a complaint with Business Consumer Alliance, your local public utility commission, attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or your state consumer protection agency. And make sure to warn others so they are aware of how these scams operate and avoid falling victim. Start by sharing this blog with your family, friends, co-workers, and associates.
If you are struggling to pay your utility bill, contact your provider right away. There may be special programs to assist you in paying your balance or payment arrangements may be an option. HUD.gov has a list of organizations that can assist with paying your utility bills, which can be found here https://www.hud.gov/states/california/renting/energyprgms.
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