Gas, electricity and water are not purchases you regularly think about.
However, if someone calls to tell you your account is overdue and your service is about to be shut off, you’d probably be upset. You might do whatever they say to avoid the consequences. That’s exactly what scammers are counting on.
The Department of Consumer Affairs has warned of a new scam targeting utility customers. A scammer will call and claim the potential victim is overdue on a utility bill. They will instruct the victim to go buy a prepaid debit card to prevent shut off of that service. Transactions on prepaid cards are difficult to trace, which means recovering the money is nearly impossible.
If you’re targeted by one of these scams, stay calm and don’t succumb to threats.
Know your rights
Utility companies don’t operate like scammers. No utility company representative would tell you that they will shut off your service within minutes unless you pay immediately. There are regulations that govern how and when service can be turned off.
First, a notification of termination would be sent. This letter identifies the reason for shut-off, the date it will happen and what can be done to avoid it. This process is cumbersome, so most companies won’t send one until you’re more than two payments behind.
Second, turning your service off is expensive, so utility providers will make several attempts to contact you. Ask for a record of these attempts. A utility company will gladly provide this information; a scammer will hesitate when questioned.
Pay it right
Utility companies will never insist on a specific means of payment.
Always choose a secured means of payment, like your credit or debit card. These cards offer fraud protection and limit your liability if something goes wrong with the transaction.
If you’re not already signed up, Aspire offers automatic bill payment to make paying your bills simple.
See something, say something
If you get a call like this, hang up immediately and contact the FCC. Demanding money over the phone is illegal, as is making unsolicited commercial phone calls. Report violations of the no-call registry at complaints.donotcall.gov.
If you’ve run into payment trouble with utility companies in the past, work to get ahead on your utility payments. There are federal and state programs that can help if you’re having money issues. One such program is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides utility payment credits for low-income individuals.
There are also programs which average your utility payments. This can make budgeting easier, ensuring that you can pay each bill and avoid being a target for these scams.
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a utility scam? How did you handle it? Share your wisdom in the comments!