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You’d think scammers would run out of ideas, but they don’t! While they keep coming up with new ways to con you, one scheme that never gets old is the utility bill scam. Everyone pays for electricity, gas, or water, and these crooks just can’t resist taking advantage of it.
So if the scammer randomly tries the utility company bill scam on people, it’s at least going to be a relevant scam. You might take a second or two to remember whether you paid the power bill when the scam message or phone call appears.
In that moment of doubt on your part, the scammer strikes, ramping up the pressure on you to make a snap decision. The scammer hopes you might panic and make a mistake if things feel rushed.
Because so many people could be a victim of this type of scam, the criminals don’t have to do a lot of research on you. They can just roll out the scam and see whether they can trap you.
We’ll help you figure out what utility bill scams look like and how you can protect yourself.
What Are Utility Scams?
If a scammer contacts you and pretends to represent one of the utility companies, this is a bill scam.
The scammer may try promising you a lower rate, threatening to cut off your service, or anything in between, all in an effort to convince you to respond. The scammer simply wants to grab your attention and create a moment of doubt in your mind.
The ultimate idea is that you’ll reveal sensitive personal information, pay the scammer in cash, or give the scammer access to your bank account by the end of the conversation.
Utility scams have been around quite a while and – like many other scams – have evolved with advances in digital technology. Although utility bill scammers still go door to door like they did in the past, they also may use:
Understanding how to spot these scams quickly gives you a better chance of avoiding becoming a victim.
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Most Common Utility Bill Scams
To help you prepare to resist any scammers who call you and pretend to be from a utility company, it’s helpful to understand common utility scam situations.
1. Threatening to shut off your power, water, or gas
What is it? This is one of the most popular utility scams. You receive a message or phone call from the utility company threatening to cut off your account. The caller may then offer to reinstate it with a wire transfer or provide your bank account information. If you receive a message, there may be a link to click that gives you a chance to fix the issue.
How to spot it: Utility companies never threaten to cut off your service in the first message or call you receive. If the person who claims to be from the utility is threatening you, especially if you never spoke to anyone previously, this is a sign of a scam. The scammer wants to make you panic, hoping you’ll give up any kind of information to make the problem go away fast.
How to avoid it: Track your bills to be certain you are paying them on time. Double-check that the money came out of your account. If you are certain your utility bill is current, you can feel comfortable ignoring the threats. Otherwise, call the utility company directly to determine what is happening if you receive a threatening message or a call like this.
2. Accidental overpayment of your utility bill
What is it? A scammer may call you and pretend to be from the utility company, claiming you’ve overpaid your bill. This feels good, but you have to learn that the only way to receive your refund is by giving your bank account information for direct deposit.
How to spot it: The utility company is not going to call you out of the blue regarding an overpayment. Instead, your utility bill will show a credit the following month, reducing the next bill. When the scammer tells you that the only way to receive your refund is through a direct deposit, this also is a sign of a scam.
How to avoid it: Never give out bank account information to a random caller. If it’s a scammer, you may become the victim of theft. If you believe you may have overpaid, reach out to the utility company’s customer service department on your own and ask. Don’t trust a random call that you did not request to receive. Remember, scammers can spoof your caller ID system to make it appear as though the call is coming from your utility.
3. Switching power providers
What is it? Many states have deregulated energy markets. This means you can purchase your power from any of a few different companies. Someone may show up at your home and claim to be from one of the power companies, offering you a significant discount to switch companies. The person may then ask for quite a bit of personal information and financial information. If this is a scam, you’ve just given away information that someone could use to steal your identity.
How to spot it: Although it is possible that the person at your door is a legitimate salesperson, it could also be a scammer. If the person tries to pressure you into switching because the offer is only available right now, this is a sign of a scam. If the rates sound too good to be true, they probably are because it’s a scam instead of a legitimate offer.
How to avoid it: Do not respond to salespeople who show up at your door unannounced or if you did not ask them to come. Even more importantly, don’t share personal information or bank account information with such people. If you want to research switching power providers, call the company directly and ask what options are available.
4. Fake repairs to upgrade your equipment
What is it? A couple of people may show up at your house in uniforms that look like official utility company uniforms. They may have ID badges, too. They may claim to need to inspect your gas line, water line, or power line, trying to determine whether you need an equipment upgrade for safety purposes. In a scam, they would find something wrong that requires an upgrade … and a major cost for you. The scammers may also tell you that they’ll falsify a report that your equipment is fine if you just pay them a few hundred dollars in cash rather than charging you several thousand dollars to replace the equipment.
How to spot it: The utility company is not going to show up at your house unannounced for this type of inspection. In fact, the utility would almost certainly not do inspections like this on your personal property unless you ask. Regardless, if the inspection team finds a problem and wants you to pay for it immediately rather than billing you, this is a sign of a scam. This is a huge red flag if the employees offer to file a false report.
How to avoid it: If utility workers show up on your property unannounced and want to do an inspection, do not let them into your home until you verify they actually work for the utility. Call the utility’s customer service team to figure out if they are legitimate. Do not call a number that the workers give you, as this could be a fake number that’s part of the scam. Never give cash to someone who shows up at your home claiming to be a utility employee, especially if you did not ask them to come to your home.
What You Should Do If You Believe You Are a Utility Scam Victim
If you believe you may have given a scammer some personal information as part of a utility bill scam, you should take some steps to try to protect yourself.
- Call the utility: Let the utility company know immediately that someone may have scammed you. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your account and to maintain your service until you straighten things out.
- Call your bank: If you gave the scammer some banking information for a direct withdrawal of your utility bill, reach out to your bank and block any odd transactions.
- Call the credit bureaus: Let the three credit bureaus know that you may be the victim of a scam. They can put a fraud alert on your credit report that tells creditors your financial information may be in jeopardy.
Ask your ID theft protection service for help
If you are a customer of one of the best identity theft protection services, you should reach out to the customer service team.
When you have an ID theft protection service subscription, you can receive help with trying to restore your identity. If you suffered a financial loss from the utility scam, you also may be eligible to receive an insurance payment to help with your losses.
However, it’s important to note that you cannot subscribe to the ID theft protection service after you are a victim of identity theft and expect to receive the benefits of the service.
You have to be a subscriber at the time the ID theft occurred to be able to receive insurance payments or to help with restoring your identity.
If you’re thinking about subscribing to an identity theft protection service because you like the idea of having an extra layer of protection, don’t wait. That delay could be the difference between having the protection you want and being on your own when trying to recover from losing your identity.
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6 Ways to Protect Yourself From Utility Bill Scams
The best way to avoid becoming a utility scam victim is to know what to do when a scammer reaches out to you.
1. Don’t let utility employees in your home without verifying their identity
When a supposed utility employee shows up at your house with offers of a lower bill or other promises, this potentially is a scam.
If your utility company is going to send an employee to your home, you should expect to receive a heads-up from the company.
Now, if you requested a visit from a utility employee, the person who shows up almost certainly is legitimate. However, when this person shows up without warning, do not let this employee in your home until you call the utility company and verify the employee’s identity.
Scammers can produce fake badges and may even know some information about your account that they found on the dark web. So use caution when you do not know the person is coming to your home and when you did not request the visit.
2. Pay attention to the procedures of the utility company
No legitimate utility company is going to suddenly contact you and threaten to cut off your service, even if you miss a payment.
The company may call or message you and try to set up a plan to try to rectify your overdue account. No company wants to cut off your power or gas without trying to work with you on the money you owe.
And, of course, if you do not have an overdue bill, the utility is not going to cut off your service, no matter what the scam caller tells you.
If this is the first time you received a message from the utility company, and you immediately hear a threat to cancel your service, this almost certainly is a scam.
3. Never agree to send gift cards as a payment
Scammers like to request gift cards as a payment from victims. So if the utility bill scammer convinces you that you need to send some money to return your account balance to zero, the scammer may request gift cards.
No legitimate utility company is going to ask for gift cards as a payment.
Don’t wire money or give out your bank account information to a random caller over the phone, either, especially if you did not initiate the communication with the utility company.
4. Pay attention to common utility scams in your area
Sometimes, scammers may hit a particular location hard with utility scams before moving on to another location. This makes it easier for the scammers to pretend they are working for a particular local utility company.
When utility companies know about scams happening in your area, they may try to alert customers through notes on the printed bill, blast emails, local news stories, or social media posts.
You may want to follow your utilities on social media to learn about potential scams in your area as early as possible.
Always report any scam attempt that you receive to your local utility, as this information may help prevent someone else from becoming a scam victim.
5. Take a breath before reacting to an odd request from your utility
Scammers count on throwing you off balance when they contact you and threaten to cut off your utility or when they promise to slash your utility rates.
If you react to the scammer’s message too quickly – and without taking the time to think about what it entails – you could make a costly mistake.
Typically, when you take a few seconds to really think about what the scammer is saying, common sense will tell you that the scammer’s message is almost certainly fake.
If you still aren’t sure whether the message is real after taking a breath, don’t respond to the message or caller.
Instead, look up the customer service phone number for the utility and make a phone call to check on the legitimacy of the original message. Don’t accept any phone number the caller gives you or that appears in a message, as this number likely is a fake.
6. Help older relatives and neighbors watch out for these scams
Scammers often target senior citizens with these types of utility scams. They may show up in person and try to bully or intimidate the senior into providing cash or information.
Tell your elderly relatives and neighbors they can call you for help if they’re ever unsure about something that is happening with their utilities. Let them know if you hear of any scams occurring in your area.
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Keep the Lights on and Keep Utility Scammers Away
The key to avoiding utility bill scams primarily involves not panicking when you receive this type of message or phone call. Take a second to think about what the message is saying.
Don’t respond quickly to the message, as scammers are counting on you making an error when you’re in a rush.
If you feel like you’re becoming the target of utility scams more frequently than in the recent past, it’s possible that this is a sign you are a victim of identity theft or that a scammer has obtained some of your information on the dark web.
Subscribing to an identity theft protection service like Aura can help you learn whether you have personal information on the dark web.
Learning how to prevent identity theft with the help of an identity theft protection service may help you cut down on the number of scams you receive, regardless of what type of scams they are.
Don’t let the fear of the possibility of the utility company cutting off your electrical power or water force you to make a snap judgment that could leave you vulnerable to a scam.
Keeping the lights on and avoiding a scam? That’s a good day.
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