Utility Scams

What you can do to protect yourself from scammers.

Beware of Utility Scams

Slam the scam graphic

Scammers call threatening to disconnect your utility service, demanding immediate payment by prepaid cards purchased at a local retail store, and insist you call them back with the card information to make payment. They often use caller ID spoofing, and their call-back numbers may even include recorded replicas of utility company greetings. Know the signs. #StopScams

Know What To Do - Scams

Scammers are creative, tenacious, and willing to invest their time for the potential payout. They might call hundreds of phone numbers to get one hit, netting them hundreds or even thousands of dollars. New capabilities for spoofing, or disguising, caller identification (ID) can make the phone number you see on your caller ID appear to be your utility company's. Spoofing  makes it easier for scammers to deceive you, and makes it more difficult for you to immediately verify the call. If you are not 100% sure it’s an actual representative from your utility calling, hang up and call your utility back at the number listed on your monthly statement.

Most Common Utility Scams

Disconnection Deception:

Scammers call threatening disconnection of your electric service, demanding immediate payment by prepaid cards purchased at a local retail store (or credit card, debit card, bank draft, wiring money, etc.), and insisting you call them back with the card information to make payment.

Tip: Your local electric co-op will send you one or more disconnection notices in the mail if your payment is past due, and they will offer several payment options without specifying the type of payment you need to make.

Overpay Trick:

Scammers call claiming you have overpaid your utility bill, and you need to provide personal bank account information or a credit card number to facilitate a refund.

Tip: Your electric co-op may apply any overpayments you have made to your utility account, allowing the credit balance to cover any future charges, or refund any overpayment by mailing a check.

Smishing Scam:

Smishing, short for SMS phishing, is a relatively new scam that attempts to trick mobile phone users into giving scammers personal information, which can be used for identity theft, via a text or SMS message. Scammers like smishing, as consumers tend to be more inclined to trust text messages.

Tip: Utility companies typically do not text you unless you have signed up for a specific notification service offered by your utility.

Bogus Bills:

Scammers send suspicious emails that appear to be a bill sent by your local electric co-op, potentially featuring the co-op’s logo and color scheme.

Tip: Do not click on any links or attachments in any email unless you have verified the sender. You may be directed to a scam website designed to steal your personal information, or you might install malicious software onto your computer without ever knowing it. Your local electric co-op typically sends bills by mail, unless you have opted to receive your bill by email.

Source: Consumer’s Guide to Imposter Utility Scams available at www.utilitiesunited.org/

Tips to Avoid Scams

Protect personal information

Never provide or confirm personal information (Social Security number, date of birth) or financial information (banking account information, debit or credit card information) to anyone initiating contact with you, whether by phone, in person, or email, claiming to be a utility company representative. If your utility leaves you a message or contacts you by phone, it will typically ask to speak to the person whose name is listed on the account, and if you call your utility, it may ask for some personal information to confirm your identity for your protection. Never give out information or provide any payment type to any callers claiming to represent your utility. Your utility will have your relevant personal and account information.

Take your time

Do not be rushed. If someone calls, appears or emails saying you have to pay your bill immediately to avoid disconnection, tell them you would like to verify that they are a legitimate utility company representative by calling a verified number for the utility company. Beware if a caller exhibits impatience, annoyance or anger when you question their authority. While a scammer will discourage you from hanging up and calling the number on your utility bill, a real utility representative will encourage you to do so for your own peace of mind.

Utilities mail disconnection notices

Consumers with delinquent accounts receive advance disconnection notification included with their regular monthly bill — never a single notification shortly before disconnection. Remember, your utility company will not notify you by phone, email, in person or text message as your first and only notification about a potential disconnection or shutoff — it will mail you such notice — at least one, if not several times, before terminating service.

Scammers might claim that you have been sent previous bills — do not fall for it. If you get a cancellation notification (especially by phone), hang up and verify it by calling your utility. Know that utilities sometimes do call consumers whose bills are in arrears, or have not yet been paid, in order to remind them that a payment is due; however, a legitimate utility representative will explain to a consumer how a payment can be made using the utility’s established payment options — they will not demand payment over the phone.

Always ask questions

Ask the person calling you to provide you with your account number, your last payment amount and date of payment. If he/she is a legitimate utility representative, this information will be readily accessible. If not, hang up, and call your utility.

Know that your questions may scare the scammer off. If not, document what the scammer told you, including the name they provided you, the date and time you spoke with them, their caller ID number, the method of payment they requested, any phone number they requested you call to pay your bill and any other details that might aid in a possible criminal investigation. If you purchased a prepaid card and provided the card's number to the scammer for payment, record the prepaid card number as well. Call your utility immediately to inform them of the scam, and give this information to your utility when you call them. If you want to check on your account, call your utility's phone number as provided on your monthly bill, or on its website or log into your account on the website.

Pay your utility only

Never make a utility bill payment to anyone calling you on the phone, texting you or emailing you. Always call your utility company, at the number provided on your bill or on the utility’s website, if you have a question about payment or billing information. Know your utility bill payment options — online through SmartHub, Pay by Phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.

Never wire money or give the number from a prepaid card to someone you do not know. Once you do, you cannot get your money back. Be suspicious if the caller is requiring the use of a specific payment option, like a prepaid card, as utilities never ask or require a customer to purchase a prepaid card to avoid disconnection.

Delete suspicious emails

Many utility companies use email to communicate with their consumers about their accounts and inform them about available programs; however, utilities never ask their consumers for Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, passwords or financial information by email. Scammers often mimic legitimate utility company correspondence to trick you into opening an email, clicking a link, making a payment or giving away your personal information.

Scammers posing as utility companies often utilize phishing, the fraudulent practice of sending emails to steal your money or obtain your personal information. Some scammers send spam emails disguised as legitimate utility emails with spoofed utility email addresses, logos, trademarks, website links and wording to add to the deception.

Scammers also use malware, short for malicious software, specifically designed to gain access to or damage your computer without your knowledge. There are various types of malware including spyware (for stealing sensitive information), ransomware (for extorting money) and keyloggers (for surveilling your keystrokes to obtain personal information). If you click on attachments or hyperlinks in emails from unknown senders, including scammers posing as your utility company, you may inadvertently download malware to your computer. New types of malware are created daily due to the lure of money that can be made by scammers committing internet crimes. Always keep your computer antivirus up-to-date.