How the Scam Works
A person or organization receives a call from someone who claims to represent the utility company. Most often, the individual claims the person or organization is behind on their electric bill and threatens to shut down the power soon if the money is not paid. The scam artists usually ask people to pay the “balance” via prepaid debit card or wire transfer.
The scam artist may try to create a sense of urgency to prevent the person or business from verifying the legitimacy of the call. While scam artists most often impersonate electric utilities, scammers sometimes impersonate other utility companies, such as television providers or water utility companies.
How to Protect Yourself
There are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Verify the legitimacy of the call before acting. Before sending money to someone demanding payment, verify that the call actually came from your utility company by calling the number on your bill or on its website. Scam artists will sometimes “spoof” the real number for a utility company, so even if your caller ID shows the company’s official number, it is best to hang up and call back if the call seems suspicious.
- Beware of unusual payment methods. If the caller demands you send payment via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, that is generally a red flag that the call is part of a scam. Prepaid debit cards and wire transfers are difficult to trace, and it can be almost impossible to recover the money once it is sent.
- Be careful providing information over the phone and online. It is a good rule of thumb to avoid providing any information—including credit card numbers, checking account information, or other personal information—over the phone to people who call you. Most utility companies will allow you to mail payment directly to the company, or pay via a secured website. If you feel suspicious about a caller telling you to make a payment via a website, check to make sure the website is secure. A secure website name starts with “https://”—remember the “s” is for secure. In general, “http://” websites are vulnerable to attack.
- Don’t be rushed. If a caller tries to keep you on the phone to prevent you from verifying the call, or says you must pay immediately to prevent your power from being disconnected, the call may not be legitimate. Tell the caller you would like to verify the call is legitimate and then call back at a trusted number for the company.