We’re so reliant on our devices that the thought of losing power is scarier than ever. Facing the prospect of having the electricity cut off, people act swiftly when a problem arises.
Frantic calls to your utility company can usually sort it out, but what happens when they know nothing about your situation? Tap or click here for frightening utility scam red flags.
Scammers are experts at sounding official and will use all the tricks to scam you out of hard-earned money. Unfortunately, it’s an ever-growing problem, and utility companies are trying to warn customers. Read on for how these scams work, what to listen for and what you can do about them.
Here’s the backstory
Most utility scams start the same way — a phone call from someone who pretends to work for the electric company. While the approach and conversation might differ, it all comes down to paying up or getting cut off.
Scammers claim your electrical bill is in arrears, that you short-paid for a few months or that an administrative error sent you the wrong statement. Then, using forceful language, the caller insists that you’ll lose power if you don’t pay within the next few minutes.
That is one of the first signs you are dealing with a scammer. No utility company will call you with the threat of immediate disconnection if you don’t pay right away. According to the FTC, “these scammers want to scare you into paying before you have time to confirm what they’re telling you.”
What to look out for
Let’s say you tell the caller that you’re familiar with paying bills and will do so through your account or online payment system after confirming the problem. Sounds brilliant, right? But that’s usually where things escalate.
The scammer will now try to convince you that other payment options are much faster, again dangling the threat of being cut off.
If that isn’t enough proof, here are three signs that you are dealing with a scammer:
- The scammer insists that you pay through Zelle or untraditional payment methods. They might even convince you that paying with gift cards or cryptocurrency is acceptable.
- The caller will always give a sense of urgency. If you don’t pay within the next few minutes, your electricity will be cut off immediately. Scammers often call closer to the weekend, reminding potential victims that they’ll have to wait until Monday for a reconnection.
- Be careful when answering the door. If the doorbell rings and a utility worker wants to do an energy audit, it’s probably a scam. Unsolicited audits are becoming more common, but your utility company won’t just show up at your door. It’s something that you must request, and scammers will charge you an excessive amount as a “consultation fee.”
What you can do about it
While it’s seemingly easy to spot a scammer, many still fall victim to criminal activities. In addition to the three points above, there are other things that you can do to stay safe.
- If a scammer approaches you, report it immediately to the FTC through ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
- When the phone rings and you suspect it to be a scammer, hang up immediately. If you are still unsure, don’t call the number back. Instead, phone your utility company using the number on your bill or its official website.
- After hanging up on the scammer, add the number to your phone’s block list so they can’t phone you again.
- If a supposed utility worker shows up at your front door, politely decline their offer of an energy audit. They might be insistent on completing the job. In that case, ask for official identification. If they can’t produce it, decline again and close the door. If they hand you identification, call your utility company (from the number on your bill) and ask if a worker is in your neighborhood.
- Scammers might also claim that you owe the utility company money. Again, the best way to verify this is to call your power company and double-check the details. Your utility company might also send you bills over email or have a website where you can check.