The Edison Electric Institute has joined with electric, gas, and water companies from across the United States and Canada to raise awareness about scams targeting utility customers.
Wednesday, November 16, is the inaugural Utilities United Against Scams Day, and it is supported by a week-long advocacy and awareness campaign focused on exposing the tactics scammers use to steal money from utility customers and on educating customers on how to protect themselves.
"Protecting customers from scams is a high priority for EEI and its member companies," said EEI President Tom Kuhn. "The inaugural Utilities United Against Scams Day will help to spread awareness of the suspicious behaviors and scams targeting customers. If customers ever are unsure about the authenticity of a caller or the identity of a service worker, it is important that they call their utilities directly to check on the status of their accounts."
One of the most common types of utility scams involves customers receiving unsolicited telephone, electronic, or in-person communications from an individual claiming to be a utility company representative. The scammer warns that the customer’s electric or other utility service will be disconnected if the customer fails to make an immediate payment – typically using a reloadable debit card or other non-traceable form of payment.
Complicating matters, these scammers often employ authentic-seeming phone numbers, graphics, uniforms, and other materials.
Signs of Potential Scam Activity:
· The supposed utility representative becomes angry and tells the customer their account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment is not made – usually within less than an hour.
· The caller instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back supposedly to make a payment to their utility.
· The caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds.
How Customers Can Protect Themselves:
· Utilities will never ask or require a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.
· Customers can make payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail, or in person.
· Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification included with their regular monthly bill – never a single notification one hour before disconnection.
· If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, hang up and call the local police then your utility. Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.
The coalition encourages customers to share these messages in their communities to help spread awareness about how to guard against scam activity.
Customers who suspect that they have been the victim of fraud, or who feel threatened during contact with one of these scammers, should contact local authorities and then their utility. The Federal Trade Commission’s website is also a good source of information about how you can protect your personal information.