Scams involving utility bills for electric, water or gas services have long been popular with scammers and with much of the country in the grip of cold weather, scammers are using robocalls posing as their targeted victims’ electric utility company threatening to turn off the customer’s power if payment is not paid immediately. While this scam occurs everywhere, New England electric company Eversource recently issued a warning to its customers to be aware of this scam. In another version of this scam, potential victims are called on the phone by scammers who tell them 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, utilities will not use robocalls to demand immediate payment under the threat of termination of service. 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. 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. Emails and text messages may also appear legitimate, but can be merely made to appear as if they are coming from your utility company when, in fact, they are coming from a scammer.
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.
A hundred American and Canadian utility companies have formed an organization called Utilities United Against Scams and they have created a Consumer’s Guide to Impostor Utility Scams which provides much information to help you avoid these types of scams. Here is a link to the guide. http://www.utilitiesunited.org/Documents/Guide_UUAS_Guide_Utility_Scams.pdf
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