Protect yourself from utility phone scams

B.R. Shenoy

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Utility scammers are hard at work attempting to deceive consumers.

Truecaller, a call-security software provider, says that Americans lost $29.8 billion to phone scammers in the preceding 12 months, up from $19.7 billion the previous year, based on the findings of a March 2021 poll. According to the survey, 59 million Americans lost money to phone scams over that period, with the average cost increasing by 43 percent, from $351 to $502.

Our Experience

Yesterday, my husband received a telephone call from a phone scammer acting as a utility employee, claiming we were behind on our gas bill.

The scammer manipulated our caller ID to make it look like the call was coming from a local utility. In our case, they spoofed a number from CenterPoint Energy.

“Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.” —fcc.gov

According to the fraudster, the utility company had changed payment platforms and was now taking payments through Zelle, a mobile payment app.

They threatened to terminate our service and demanded that we pay them immediately via Zelle.

My husband thought he was going crazy since we always pay our utility bills automatically through direct debit.

He immediately logged into the company's website to check on our account status. Alternatively, he could have contacted their customer care line to inquire about the status of our account.

My husband made sure that he used the company's official website or phone number, as displayed on our utility bill. He confirmed the account was in good standing.

Utilities around the country have cautioned customers to be on the lookout for similar calls and not fall for service outages claims.

Simple Tips to Protect Yourself

  1. Hang up if you receive a call from someone claiming to be collecting on behalf of your local utility, even if a caller ID device identifies the company.
  2. To check the status of your utility account, call the provider at the number indicated on your monthly utility bill, phone book, or well-known website. Do not call the number that appears on your caller ID.
  3. Personal information such as birth dates, social security numbers, and financial information should not be disclosed.
  4. Utilities do not request immediate payment via phone or email. They will not pressure you to pay by phone as your sole alternative, nor will they threaten to terminate your service instantly.
  5. Never make payments to anyone using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or mobile payment apps. Legitimate businesses will provide you with several payment options.
  6. Spread the word with family and friends about the potential scam so they can protect themselves.
  7. It is unnecessary to report the scam if you merely received a phone call. However, if you lost money due to the scam, call your local police department or sheriff's office as soon as possible. Or you can report the scam to your utility company online, the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, or to your state attorney general.

Have you been the victim of any phone scams? Please share your experiences in the comments.

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Houston, TX
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