Scams involving utility bills for electric, water or gas services have long been popular with scammers. Utilities United Against Scams, a consortium of more than 100 American and Canadian utility companies has designated tomorrow, November 15th as Utility Scam Awareness Day.
In one version of the scam, potential victims receive telephone calls purportedly from their utility company informing them of a special company promotion for which they are eligible. They just need to provide some personal information.
In another version, potential victims are called on the phone and told that their utility service will be terminated for non-payment unless they pay by credit card or prepaid cards such as iTunes cards over the phone.
In a third version of this scam, potential victims receive an email that has a link to take them to their bill.
All of these are scams. In the first, there is no special promotion and the victim ends up providing personal information that leads to identity theft. In the second, the victim is coerced into giving their credit card or prepaid card information to a scammer and in the third, merely by clicking on the link to go to the phony bill, the victim ends up downloading keystroke logging malware or ransomware that can lead to identity theft or worse.
You can never be sure when you get an email or a telephone call if it is really from a legitimate source. Email addresses can be hacked to appear legitimate and even if you have Caller ID, a scammer can use a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is from a legitimate caller.
Trust me, you can’t trust anyone. Never provide personal or financial information to anyone in response to a telephone call, text message or email until you have independently confirmed that the communication was legitimate. In the case of a utility bill, merely call the number on the back of your bill and you will be able to confirm whether or not the communication was legitimate. Also, never click on links unless you have confirmed that they are legitimate. The risk is too great. It is also important to remember that no legitimate utility company will require you to immediately pay your bill over the phone with a prepaid card such as an iTunes card.