Some tips for Utility Scam Awareness Day

Some tips for Utility Scam Awareness Day
Always verify identification of anyone claiming to represent a utility company. (Getty Images)

Alabama Power is among the American and Canadian utilities joining forces to remind customers how to avoid scams.

Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a consortium of more than 100 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas companies and trade associations, continues to raise awareness of scams through the second annual Utility Scam Awareness Day Nov. 15. A weeklong advocacy and awareness campaign is focused on exposing tactics scammers use to steal money from utility customers, and on educating customers to protect themselves.

UUAS released a report, “Consumer’s Guide to Impostor Utility Scams,” authored by Executive Director Sheri Givens. The guide highlights some of the most frequent forms of scams, in which customers receive unsolicited telephone, electronic and in-person communications from people claiming to be a company representative. In some cases, scammers extort payments from customers by threatening to shut off service immediately.

“The consumer scam guide highlights common types of scams and how customers can better protect themselves, their neighbors and their families from fraudulent threats,” Givens said. “It is important to call attention to, and educate all on, the deceptive schemes scammers use.”

Signs of potential scam activity include:

  • Scammers may aggressively tell the customer his utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made – usually within less than an hour.
  • Scammers may instruct the customer to purchase a prepaid card – widely available at retail stores – then call back, supposedly to make a bill payment to the utility company. When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the card funds.

Ways to avoid scams include:

  • Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Legitimate utility companies do not specify how customers should make a bill payment, and will always offer ways to pay a bill, including accepting payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
  • If someone threatens immediate disconnection or shutoff of service, customers should hang up the phone, delete the email or shut their door. Customers with delinquent accounts receive advance disconnection notification, typically by mail and included with their regular monthly bill. Companies never send a single notification one hour or less before disconnection.
  • If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should call their utility company at the number on their monthly bill or the company’s website, not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.

To read the new report by Givens, click here.

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