Understand How Fraud Artists Operate and Remain Vigilant Against Common Utility-Related Scams
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) marked November 20th as Utility Scam Awareness Day – a national effort to educate residents and businesses about the ways that scammers use utility-related schemes to scare or trick customers into sending them money or disclosing personal information.
“Scam artists like to disguise themselves as representatives from organizations that we know and trust, including our public utilities,” noted PUC Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “They also try to force potential victims into acting quickly, without time to do additional research or verification, with threats like ‘pay now, or your service will be disconnected,’ or offers of ‘refunds’ and savings that seem too-good-to-be-true.”
The arrival of colder weather – combined with the financial pressures on
many families and businesses because of COVID-19 – makes this a prime
time for scams that offer large savings or threaten service shutoffs.
Common Themes for Scams
Individual scam calls or emails may differ slightly, but most operate using a similar framework:
- Official Sounding Calls – Scam artists claim to be representatives from respected agencies, like your utility or a government entity.
- Demands for Immediate Response – Scammers pressure consumers into acting quickly, with threats of service interruptions or claims of large savings.
- Unusual Payment Requests – Many financial scammers request payment using prepaid debit cards, gift cards or wire transfers, which are generally untraceable.
- Disclosure of Personal Information – Offers of “refunds” or “large savings” may be used to trick consumers into disclosing utility account numbers and other personal information, which could be used for future fraud.
Awareness and education are the best tools for protecting yourself and your business against potential scams.
Scam artists try to pressure you into acting quickly, without the
time to think carefully about what you are doing – like asking “why
does my electric utility need payment using an iTunes gift card?”
While COVID-19 has dramatically decreased face-to-face interactions, scammers continue to aggressively use phone and online networks to target customers, and their tactics are constantly evolving.
Reporting Utility Scams
It is important that customers call their utilities directly to check on the status of their accounts if they are ever unsure about the authenticity of a caller or the identity of a service worker, or if they suspect any fraudulent activity.
Consumers who suspect they have been victimized by a utility-related scam can also contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS), at 1-800-692-7380.
An issue that the PUC continues to caution consumers about involves automated “robocalls” from unidentified sources – making vague and potentially misleading statements about customer discounts, refunds, rebates and bonuses if the customers act immediately. The calls often appear as a local telephone number on recipients’ caller ID, which is often fake or “spoofed,” or the calls fail to display any number at all.
When discussing energy supply service with telemarketers, the PUC stresses that telemarketing agents must do the following:
- Immediately Identify Themselves – Callers must tell you who they are at the beginning of the call.
- Explain the Call – They must clearly explain why they are calling.
- No False Claims – They cannot claim to represent the PUC, another utility or other organization.
If the agent fails to do this immediately, the consumer should end the call. When facing an aggressive sales agent or suspecting a potential scam, consumers are encouraged to contact BCS at 1-800-692-7380.
More About Utility Scams
Additional information about identifying and avoiding a variety of utility-related scams is available from Utilities United Against Scams, a consortium of more than 140 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities and trade associations.
Desire more specific assistance regarding consumer protection or energy projects, energy law, or real estate law, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.