Thursday, October 28, 2021

Hang Up and Call the Utility Company Yourself:
State officials say Telephone scammers are impersonating electric companies

State residents are being warned about phone calls in which scammers pretending to be from electric companies. The scammers pretend to be looking for overdue payments. They threaten to suspend electricity services unless they receive a payment immediately.

Payment has been requested by means of untraceable services such as gift cards, and money transfer apps, including PayPal and Zelle. The calls have been reported to the New York State Division of Consumer Protection. The scammers are presenting themselves as employees of New York electric and gas utilities.

The scammers claim that the consumers’ utilities will be shut off in minutes due to an outstanding account balance unless the consumer makes immediate payment. The scammer then asks for consumer information, including utility account numbers, social security numbers, and dates of birth, and demands payment for alleged past-due bills.

Scammers will demand payment, in form of financial technologies, which includes cash apps and bitcoin, to bilk thousands of dollars from unsuspecting costumers.

Utilities give repeated notices prior to terminations including reaching out to consumers with past due balances by phone to offer payment options. But they do not specify that the payment must be a prepaid card or other non-traceable money transfer.

If someone demands payment via non-traceable method, consumers just need to hang up and report the calls. To avoid falling victim to these scams, state officials advise:

■ Hang up and call the utility company yourself.

Call the company using the number on your bill or the utility company’s website even if the person who contacted you left a call-back number. Often, those call-back numbers are fake. If the message came by text, don’t respond. If your bill says you owe anything, pay it as you normally would, not as the caller says.

■ Never give out personal information such as account numbers, social Security numbers, date of birth, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if they are at all suspicious. Consumers should not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes” or “No.”

■ Consumers should exercise caution if they are being pressured for information immediately. Utility companies do not ask for payments via gift cards or cash transfer apps. Gift cards allow scammers to get money without a trace.

■ Real utility companies issue several disconnection warnings before shutting off utilities and they never demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment. The utility may call customers to discuss payment plans, but will not call the customers to threaten. The utility primarily communicates via letters, bills, emails and authorized texts.

■ Use call blocking tools from your phone provider and check into apps that block calls.

■ Do not rely on the number that comes up on your phone. Callers can “spoof” the number to look like a government agency or local utility company. If someone has contacted an individual and they are suspicious, they should hang up and go directly to the official website for the agency or utility company or call the number on their utility bill to confirm whether there is a problem with their account.

■ File a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection.

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