Don’t get conned by fake utility bill collection calls!
By: Jarrod Wise
Keeping the lights on is an essential requirement for American consumers and businesses. Scam artists know that and will take advantage. As summer approaches, an increasingly common scheme to be aware of is impostors claiming to be with power utility providers. They will contact individuals and businesses, demanding payment.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal and Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received reports in the past few years of utility scams from power companies throughout Texas. Residential and commercial customers receive phone calls and visits from scammers claiming to represent their utility provider. The scammers sometimes fool Caller ID to make it appear they are calling from the utility provider. They also use electric utility terminology to gain customers’ trust.
The scammers often request immediate payment and threaten the business or homeowner with disconnection of service. They commonly instruct individuals to make payment with prepaid debit cards. Transactions with those cards cannot easily be traced. Unfortunately, some individuals have been fooled by this request and complied with the scammer’s request.
These cons may also create a sense of urgency, especially for businesses, by threatening to shut off power immediately if a payment is not made. Customers who have been contacted in this way should call the police and their utility provider directly.
BBB wants businesses to be on alert and has this advice to avoid being scammed:
Hang up the phone. Utility representatives should never ask businesses or individual customers to wire money for payment or ask customers to pay with a prepaid debit card. Beware if you are asked to provide credit card numbers or banking information over the phone. Hang up and call the utility company directly to verify whether you owe money.
Never give out personal information. Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit card number or Social Security number to unidentified individuals. This could open yourself and your business up to identity theft.
Stay informed. Find out what forms of payment your utility company accepts. If the caller is requesting a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card payment, that’s a red flag. If you are visited by someone claiming to be from your utility provider, look up your utility company’s phone number and contact it directly to confirm that the individual is an actual employee.
Keep numbers updated. If you are contacted by a utility company employee and asked for personal information, it’s best to hang up and dial the number on your phone bill to be sure you are speaking with a legitimate representative.
Get help. If you receive a phone call to make a wire transfer to pay a utility bill, report the incident immediately to your utility company and your local police department.
For more information about ways to prevent business identity theft and resources for dealing with the problem if it happens to your company, visit BusinessIDTheft.org, a website operated by the Identity Theft Protection Association and the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Jarrod Wise is the communications manager for Coastal Bend BBB. To find out more about scams and to report them, check out your local BBB’s Scam Tracker page at www.bbb.org/scamtracker.