With all the confusion and uncertainty in our world today, scammers are taking advantage of these circumstances to target consumers by phone, email and text. These con artists claim to be from your local utility and the caller ID on your phone or their email address may even look legitimate.
Consumers in good standing with their utilities are often caught off-guard by the aggressive tone of these impersonators. They will usually speak with a sense of urgency, ensuring customers do not have time to ask questions or verify their claims.
The best defense against a utility scammer is an educated consumer; follow these tips from Utilities United Against Scams to protect yourself from a potential scam.
Protect Personal Information
Never provide or confirm personal information (Social Security number, date of birth) or financial information (banking account information, debit or credit card information) to anyone initiating contact with you and claiming to be from your electric co-op. Never give out information or provide any payment type to any callers or unexpected individual(s) appearing at your door claiming to represent your co-op. Your local co-op will already have your relevant personal and account information.
Take Your Time
Do not be rushed. If you receive a call, text, email or visitor saying you have to pay your bill immediately to avoid disconnection, tell them you would like to verify that they are a legitimate co-op representative by calling a verified number for the local co-op office. Beware if a representative exhibits impatience, annoyance, or anger when you question their authority. While a scammer will discourage you from hanging up and calling the number on your utility bill, a real co-op representative will encourage you to do so for your own peace of mind.
Always Ask Questions
Ask the person contacting you to provide you with your account number, your last payment amount, date of payment, and their employee identification number. If he/she is a legitimate utility representative, this information will be readily accessible. If not, hang up or shut the door, and call your utility directly to report the suspicious activity.
Contact Your Utility Directly
If you receive a suspicious call or visit, please contact the local police and our utility office immediately. Share details that the scammer told you which might aid in a possible criminal investigation.
For more tips, download a free copy of the Consumer’s Guide to Imposter Utility Scams. Remember, contact us directly if you receive a suspicious call, text, email or visit from someone claiming to represent the utility.
5 Most Common Utility Scams
1. Disconnection Deception
Scammers call threatening disconnection of your electric service, demanding immediate payment by prepaid cards purchased at a local retail store (or credit card, debit card, bank draft, wiring money, etc.), and insisting you call them back with the card information to make payment.
Tip: Your local electric co-op will send you one or more disconnection notices in the mail if your payment is past due, and they will offer several payment options without specifying the type of payment you need to make.
2. Overpayment Trick
Scammers call claiming you have overpaid your utility bill, and you need to provide personal bank account information or a credit card number to facilitate a refund.
Tip: Your electric co-op may apply any overpayments you have made to your utility account, allowing the credit balance to cover any future charges, or refund any overpayment by mailing a check.
3. Smishing Scam
Smishing, short for SMS phishing, is a relatively new scam that attempts to trick mobile phone users into giving scammers personal information, which can be used for identity theft, via a text or SMS message. Scammers like smishing, as consumers tend to be more inclined to trust text messages.
Tip: Utility companies typically do not text you unless you have signed up for a specific notification service offered by your utility.
4. Equipment or Repair Fake Fee
Scammers call demanding a separate payment to replace or install a utility-related device or meter.
Tip: If your electric co-op needs to upgrade or replace a piece of equipment, someone will contact you ahead of time as a courtesy. If there is a charge related to work on equipment you might own, it will typically be included in your monthly bill.
5: Bogus Bills
Scammers send suspicious emails that appear to be a bill sent by your local electric co-op, potentially featuring the co-op’s logo and color scheme.
Tip: Do not click on links or attachments in any email unless you have verified the sender. You may be directed to a scam website designed to steal your personal information, or you might install malicious software onto your computer without ever knowing it. Your local electric co-op typically sends bills by mail, unless you have opted to receive your bill by email.
Written by Erin Campbell, director of communications, Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives