BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received numerous calls from consumers who say scammers pretending to be with utility companies are threatening to shut off their power if they don’t pay up. Con artists reportedly claimed the customer’s bill was past due and told them to wire a payment or give their credit card information over the phone in order to keep their service.
Austin Energy in Austin and CPS Energy in San Antonio have both received reports from customers claiming they’ve been contacted by criminals representing themselves as utility employees. In some cases scammers make their phone numbers show up on caller ID as originating from the customer’s utility company. They also use electric utility terminology to gain customers’ trust.
Just over the last few months, BBBs across the nation have received variations of this particular scam. Some scammers are taking advantage of controversial rate increases to confuse consumers, while others claim payment dues were in relation to the city’s first cold front. In some cases scammers are creating a sense of urgency by threatening to shut off power immediately if a payment is not made.
Many local police departments are working directly with utility companies to protect consumers’ valuable information. CPS Energy has gone a step further and notified Green Dot prepaid card retailers to ask customers whether they were encouraged to purchase a prepaid card to pay their utility bill, and then advise them that it is a potential scam. Customers who have been contacted in this way should call the police and CPS Energy directly.
As always, BBB wants consumers to be on alert and has these tips to avoid being scammed:
- Hang up the phone. Utility representatives should never ask customers to wire money for payment. Beware if you are asked to provide credit card numbers or banking information over the phone. Hang up and call the utility company directly to verify whether you owe money.
- Never give out personal information. Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit card number or Social Security number.
- Get informed. Find out what forms of payment your utility company accepts to help when deciding if the request is legitimate.
- Keep numbers updated. If you are unsure of your account status, know how to get in contact with your utility provider.
- Get help. If you receive a phone call to make a wire transfer to pay a utility bill, report the incident immediately to your utility company.