During cold weather, scammers increasingly pose as utility company employees and other "energy savers" to try to get your money or valuables or sensitive information for identity theft. This is very common for natural gas during the winter months and electrical service during the summer months.
The Shutoff Swindle
In the most common utility scam, which happens every winter and during peak air-conditioning season, customers get phone calls warning that their service is about to be shut off because of unpaid bills.
The callers claim to be billing representatives from your utility company but are actually crooks looking for a quick payoff. They tell you that to avoid an immediate shutoff, you need to settle an overdue bill by providing them with your credit card number or a prepaid debit card.
In recent weeks, utility customers from Connecticut to Hawaii have been targeted in this longtime scheme. But this winter, some utility impostors have been demanding payment for several months' worth of purported unpaid utility service, not just one, as had been the custom. They can be convincing. They may use "spoofing" software that lets them falsely display the name and phone number of your utility company on your Caller ID. But you should know that most utilities will mail at least one, if not several, past-due notices before terminating service. If you get a cancellation notification (especially by phone), always verify it by dialing the customer service number on your utility bill. Don't give any information to the caller. Don’t automatically assume that what is displayed on your caller-ID is accurate. Con-artists can change the number that shows up on your caller-ID to make it appear legitimate and/or local.
• Don’t be pressured by immediate demands for payment. Hang up and call your utility company using the number from your statement.
• Don’t give out your account number or other personal information to someone soliciting you. Your utility company already knows your account number. They will never call you and ask you to verify it.
• Know your options. Utility companies offer a number of bill payment methods. Contact us for assistance if you are late or behind on your bills.
• Never provide your social security number, credit card number or banking information to anyone who calls you, regardless of whom they claim to be representing.
• Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes, or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Always ask for proper identification.
Utility outages are a drag. Severe weather can knock out your power, your gas, your internet, and cable for days on end.
Now imagine that in the middle of your next outage, someone knocks on your door and offers to reconnect your utilities for a cash fee. You want your utilities back as soon as possible, and they’re wearing a company uniform, so of course you give them the cash. Then you wait. And the utilities don’t come back on. When they do, hours or days later, you notice that the entire neighborhood is back on. You weren’t given preferential treatment and nothing was done to your house.
Utility companies will never ask you for cash, even if a charge is applicable for reconnecting your service. On top of that, utility companies won’t send representatives to your home without confirming with you ahead of time.