Knock, knock! It’s your energy company, here to tell you that your bill is past due–so your electricity will be shut off if you don’t pay up immediately!
Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, it’s about to get a lot worse: it’s a total scam. Pay the visitor who’s at your door, and you’ve just paid a scammer.
Utility scams are on the rise, and too many people are getting caught in these ruses. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to keep yourself from falling victim.
How the scam plays out
In a utility scam, a target receives a phone call, email, text message or even an in-person visit from an alleged representative form their gas, water or electric company. The “rep” will claim the homeowner’s account is past due and is pending shut off unless a payment is made immediately. They’ll often ask for the payment to be made via wire or through a reloadable card or gift card. Unfortunately, if the victim complies, their money will never see their utility company and will instead go directly into a scammer’s pockets.
If you’re targeted
If you believe you’re being targeted by a utility scam, do not engage with the caller or visitor. If the alleged rep sent you an email or text message, mark it as spam, block the address and do not respond. You can also call the company the scammer claimed to represent to confirm that your account is not pending shutoff. If you do have an outstanding balance, you can pay it using the payment method you normally use. If you’re still unsure whether you are being scammed, ask the “rep” to provide you with your account details and to verify their identity. If they can’t satisfy either of these requests, you’re likely being scammed.
If you’ve paid a scammer, there are steps you can take to try and get your money back. If you’ve paid with a credit card, call the card company to dispute the charge. If you’ve wired money through your bank or credit union, call the institution to request a payment reversal. Finally, if you’ve paid via wire transfer, you can still try to reclaim the lost funds by calling the company and explaining the situation. You can reach MoneyGram at 1.800.926.9400 and Western Union at 1.800.448.1492.
It’s also a good idea to report the scam to your utility company and the FTC so they can do their part in catching the scammers.
Watch out for these red flags which can help you avoid a utility scam:
- They demand immediate payment. If you’re contacted by an alleged representative of a utility company claiming your account is past due and you must pay immediately, it’s likely a scam. Authentic company reps will always give you ample warning before a shutoff. Also, if your bill payment is late, they’ll notify you in writing before calling or sending an email.
- You’re pressured to act quickly. Scammers often rely on high-pressure tactics to get victims to act without stopping to think, and utility scams are no exception.
- The “representative” is clueless about your account. If the contact or visitor cannot provide you with account information or verify their identity when asked, you’re likely being scammed.
- They request a specific form of payment. A legitimate utility company will provide you with several choices of payment methods. If you’re asked to make a wire transfer, or pay a bill via prepaid gift card or cryptocurrency, you’re looking at a scam.
- Stay safe
To avoid utility and similar scams, follow these precautionary measures:
- Never wire money or send a prepaid gift card to an unverified contact.
- Keep the security on your devices at its strongest and updated settings.
- Update your spam list often.
- Never share your personally identifiable information with an unverified contact.
Utility scams pose a real threat to your financial security, but with vigilance and awareness, you can protect yourself.