Overdue bill threats and phony financial aid offers among the most common utility scams: Internet Scambusters #758
Since most of us rely on utility companies for one or more services, it's no surprise that crooks use them to pull off a number of different utility scams.
In this week's issue, we'll tell you about the most common tricks they use and how to avoid them.
We also have details of the Top 10 locations in the U.S. where you're likely to encounter these tricksters.
Let's get started...
5 Utility Scams and Where You're Most Likely to Encounter Them
We all rely on utility companies to supply us with power, heat, water and more -- but some crooks rely on them as a way of cheating us via utility scams.
Although most of their con tricks have been around for years, scammers still know how to make them seem convincing, and they're still responsible for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably millions, from us every year.
So, this week, we're putting the 5 most common utility scams under the spotlight to remind you of what they look and sound like and what you can do to avoid them.
Overdue Bill Threats
By far the most common utility scam at the moment is the bogus threat to disconnect your power supply because you're supposedly late with your bill payment.
The crooks usually say your power will be cut within a matter of hours unless you send a wire payment -- causing victims to panic into paying, even though they know they're up to date.
Sometimes, the scammers supply another phone number you're supposed to call, and give you a reference number to use before paying by credit card.
This is even worse because you're also running the risk of having your card details stolen and used for other purchases.
Utility firms simply don't operate this way. They don't cut you off without writing several times and then providing written notice of disconnection.
So, if you get a call like this it's 100% a scam. Hang up. But if you feel uneasy about it, call the utility company using the number you'll find on your latest bill.
Bogus Assistance Offers
Scammers use a whole host of tricks to try to convince victims they can save money on their utility bills.
For instance, they may claim:
- You're entitled to a grant -- but you'll be asked to pay a fee upfront. There are no such grants and, even if there were, you wouldn't be asked to pay a fee.
- You can save money by paying a lump sum in advance -- that goes straight into the scammers' pockets. As far as we've been able to tell, no utility companies offer this type of discount deal to private homeowners or renters.
- You can cut your bills by switching to another supplier (in areas where more than one supplier operates).
Sometimes, these are legitimate calls but the offers often don't stand up to scrutiny. Don't make rash decisions on the spot but check details carefully and speak to your current supplier for genuine comparisons.
Tricks to Get Inside Your Home
Would-be thieves use utility scams to try to get inside your home. They may claim they need to inspect some aspect of your electricity, gas, water or even phone connections inside your home.
Once inside, they "case" the home to look for valuable items either to steal straightaway or to burglarize later on.
Alternatively, they may try to get you to come outside to inspect power or water lines while an accomplice goes inside to steal.
The crooks may wear uniforms and even use marked vans to make themselves look legit but, unless it's an emergency, genuine employees won't turn up at your home without writing to you first.
If they claim it is an emergency, take their ID and phone the utility company to confirm their visit is genuine.
If they're crooks, they'll disappear once they know you're going to check them out.
Equipment You Don't Need
Another doorstep trick utility scammers use is to claim you need some special equipment, such as a water filtration or power monitoring system.
In reality, they're just sales reps. They pretend to be from the utility company to make their deal seem genuine and their offer more convincing.
They may well be selling a legitimate product but if they lied to you about who they are or who sent them, the chances are the equipment they're selling will be overpriced, under-powered and probably unnecessary.
Avoid this scam by shutting the door on these pushy sales people. Utility firms simply don't sell equipment door-to-door or even by phone.
If you do want to know if you need special equipment, ask the companies themselves, not the guy on your doorstep.
Power Outage Rescue
Finally -- and this is a new one on us -- we've picked up reports of scammers exploiting power outages.
These opportunist crooks visit homes in areas where power supplies have been interrupted.
They pose as officials from the affected utility company, offering to reconnect victims for a fee.
They might claim that only a limited number of homes can be reconnected and you can get priority treatment by paying their fee.
But once you pay them, they disappear and, sadly, you're left in the dark.
Once more, utilities don't operate this way. They don't offer preferential treatment for reconnection and they don't charge a fee.
Worst Places for Utility Scams
It turns out that some places are worse than others for utility scams.
Although the crooks tend to target specific areas and then move from one to the next, some locations are more consistently affected.
According to cellphone security company Hiya, the Top 10 locations for utility scams are:
- South Central and Southeast Massachusetts
- Hudson, New Jersey
- Westchester County, New York
- Los Angeles, California
- Akron, Ohio
- Oakland, California
- Sacramento, California
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Cleveland, Ohio
Check Hiya's full listing together with details of the utility companies affected: Top 10 U.S. Cities Targeted by the Utility Scam.
Alert of the Week
It first popped up just ahead of Mother's Day but a fake offer of a $50 gift certificate or coupon from home improvement store Lowe's is still making the rounds.
It's appeared in emails and on Facebook, and the offer is used as a come-on to collect personal information from victims.
The coupon looks legit but just think this through -- since when did anyone, including a retailer, offer people $50 for free? It just doesn't happen!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!