As temperatures continue to heat up and utility bills increase, scammers impersonating utility companies will use phone calls, text messages, emails, and in-person visits to demand payment for "overdue bills." Falling for this type of scam could cost you hundreds of dollars, put your personal and financial information at risk and require time and effort to be sorted out. Families aren't the only ones at risk. Small businesses and companies are also targeted with employees wanting to resolve the issue as fast as possible. Last month, 246 commercial and residential customers reported a utility scam totaling a loss of $3,000, with one customer making a $350 payment to scammers.
The best way to protect yourself from utility scams is to learn about them! This summer remember these warning signs and prevention tips to avoid becoming a victim.
- Scammers will create a sense of urgency by threatening to turn off your electricity, water, or gas unless a payment is made immediately. It's difficult to think clearly when you're caught off guard but take your time and ask questions. Actual utility companies will send you various notices in the mail before your service is disconnected.
- Scammers will ask for payment through Zelle, Venmo, PayPal, a prepaid credit card, gift card, or even Bitcoin. Utility companies do not use these payment methods as they are not secure and challenging to record.
- Be wary of anyone claiming to be from a utility company asking to "inspect" your home; they may be scoping out your place for other criminal activities.
There are other types of utility scams and tactics you should also pay attention to, including:
- Getting an offer to have a portion of your utility bill paid. This is most likely a bad check scam, where you will be given a bad check to deposit and then asked to send part of the money back, the check never clears, and you lose the money you sent back.
- Phone calls claiming you overpaid your utility bill. A scammer will ask you for financial information to provide a refund. A company representative will not call asking for personal or financial information.
- Text messages or emails from an unknown source with a link to view an online bill or make a payment. Never click on a link from an unknown source. It could contain malware.
- An in-person visit during an outage offering you an express service restoration. This doesn't exist, and company representatives do not take payments in person.
- A phone call or home visit promoting affordable solar energy or energy-saving programs claiming to be sponsored by a utility company and asking for a deposit.
When in doubt about the legitimacy of something, it's best to hang up the phone, delete the email or text message, or shut the door until you can verify the information directly with a utility company. If you feel you've been the target of a scam, contact your local law enforcement, the Arizona Attorney General's Office, or the Federal Trade Commission. Even if you don't lose money, it's essential to report scams as they happen to help prevent others from falling victim. When scams are reported to the FTC, they are shared with more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies helping them hold scammers accountable.
Our Keeping Families Safe initiative includes topics to help with Identity Theft, Scams & Fraud, Situational Awareness and more. Be sure to visit these pages to keep you and your family safe!