Scam Alert -- How cold temps are triggering utility company scams

February 21, 2014
How the Scam Works:

The phone rings, and the person on the other line identifies her/himself as a representative from your local electric or gas company. He or she tells you that you are late on your bill. You need to pay immediately, or your utilities will be shut off.

However, instead of accepting payment by credit card or check, the caller wants you to pay by prepaid debit card. The scammer instructs you to obtain one and call him/her back. This is a huge warning sign. Prepaid debit cards are like cash. Once you transfer the money, you will be unable to redeem it.

As usual, scammers are using a variety of ways to prey on utility customers. Scammers also claim that the electric meter is not working properly and must be immediately replaced -- at the customer's expense -- or the electricity will be shut off. Other scammers are using email to reach customers. Watch out for emails disguised as overdue notices from your utility company. Clicking on a link or attachment will load malware on your computer.

Tips for Spotting a Utility Scam:

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. Here are some tips: 
  • 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.
For More Information

Learn more about protecting you prepaid debit cards on the BBB blog. To find out more about scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper.