In a trend sweeping the country, criminals in Connecticut are posing as utility company employees, in an effort to extort money from frightened consumers. Connecticut Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to beware of emails, calls and visitors at the door who threaten to cut off service.
“Utility companies and law enforcement agencies across the nation are receiving calls from consumers who tell pretty much the same story,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau Executive Communications Director, Howard Schwartz. “The victims are told they are late on their payments or that their electric meter needs to be replaced at their own expense.”
According to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), the con artists claim they work for the billing department of Connecticut Light & Power, Connecticut Natural Gas or United Illuminating, ask for payment by prepaid credit card, transfer the funds to their own cards and then disappear. The amount of money being extorted ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
“One of scammers’ most effective tools is fear, and unfortunately, the victims are being frightened into paying, under the threat of having their utilities turned off.”
Because local gas, water and electric companies do sometimes contact their customers by phone, it can be difficult to tell a scammer from a real agent.
BBB recommends consumers who receive calls that fit this description:
- Prepaid debit cards are a red flag: If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, this is a huge warning sign. Your utility company will accept a check or credit card.
- Don’t cave to pressure to pay immediately: If you feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative.
- Remember that electrical meters are the property of the utility company and would be the responsibility of the utility to replace or repair
- Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.
In some cases, the scammers may have additional information that they collect from various sources in an attempt to lend legitimacy to their calls, and in some states, emails that look like they come from the utilities may link to a lookalike website that asks for personal information, or downloads malicious software.
For additional consumer alerts and tips, visit www.bbb.org.