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Protect Yourself From Utility Scams
Officials are reporting a seasonal uptick in people falling victim to utility scams. In one popular scam, someone calls claiming to be from your utility and says that your bill is overdue and that if you don’t pay immediately, your gas and/or electric service will be cut off. Utilities around the country have formed Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) to get the message out to consumers about these and similar scams.
Many of these calls look official – the caller ID might show as your utility company. And the callers are often insistent and even scary. They threaten to send out a truck immediately or to otherwise disconnect your utilities if you don’t pay by gift card or prepaid debit card. They are especially active when the weather gets cold, because people are concerned about being without heat. And they prey on both individuals and businesses.
In another type of scam, someone shows up at your door during a power outage in your neighborhood claiming to be from the utility and offering to get your gas or electricity back on if you pay a cash fee. Of course, in the case of an outage, the utility eventually will turn your power back on without a fee. But some people feel frightened or vulnerable enough to listen to the scammer.
Experts from UUAS to the Federal Trade Commission offer the following advice to avoid being a scam victim:
Never give cash to someone who comes to your door, no matter how official he or she looks. Utilities do not require cash payment at the time of service. If a fee is required, most utilities send you a bill.
Utilities also do not call you to tell you they are cutting off your service. If your payment is late, most send you one or more reminders to pay. You would not get a call out of the blue asking for immediate payment.
Utilities do not accept gift cards or prepaid debit cards for payment.
If you think you might be the victim of a scam, hang up. Then call the customer service department of your utility and tell them about the call. You also can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.