Tips to Avoid Utility Scams
As the world reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the threat to public health, the virus is also wreaking unprecedented economic havoc. Tens of millions of Americans are out of work and many are wondering how we are going to keep the lights on. Unfortunately, scammers are aware of this, too. The National Consumers League has recently seen a spike in consumer complaints about scammers posing as local power company representatives threatening to shut off fearful consumers.
The anatomy of the scam is highly consistent: a consumer receives a call from someone claiming to be with the electric utility company. The caller warns the consumer that their power is about to be shut off over an unpaid bill. The only way to avoid this is to pay up immediately, typically via wire transfer, gift card or some other difficult-to-stop payment method.
Such a call can be very scary—particularly for those who may need electricity to power medical devices or run their small business. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers are having trouble keeping up with their bills, which may make them even more vulnerable to this scam. And even for consumers who are confident they’ve paid their bill, the impending threat of a shut-off at the height of summer heat can cause a panic.
To spot the red flags of these scams and avoid becoming a victim, here are some tips that you can use:
- Don’t panic. If someone contacts you claiming that they’re about to shut-off your electricity, it’s a scam.
- Contact the power company. A utility will never initiate a disconnection without contacting you via the mail first. If you received a call from someone claiming they’re about to turn off your power, hang up and contact your electric company. Their toll-free phone number and website address is typically listed on your electric bill.
- Beware of unusual payment methods. Anyone who asks you to pay an overdue electric or other utility bill via wire transfer, gift card, bank-to-bank transfer, bitcoin or any other unusual payment method is almost certainly trying to scam you.
- Do not give out personal information. Utility imposters may offer to connect their victims to federal assistance programs or payment plans to help pay their overdue bills. They just need to “verify” the victim’s information. In reality, these scammers are trying to gather the information they need to steal your identity. If you suspect something is amiss, hang up and call your utility company directly.
Remember to never share your account information or online credentials with anyone. Georgia United Credit Union will never ask for your username or account password. For more information on how to protect your identity from scammers, visit our Learning Center.
Source: National Consumers League. (2020, July 1). Utility Imposter Fraud Alert
Provided for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice on any subject matter.