Scams involving utility bills for electric, water or gas services have long been popular with scammers.  I recently received an email from a Florida Scamicide reader who received a phone call on her answering machine that indicated it was from Florida Power & Light threatening to terminate her electricity unless she called back in a half an hour and paid over the phone her overdue balance.  The truth is that there was no outstanding balance and the Scamicide reader smartly called Florida Power & Electric at a telephone number that she got from her bill and was told that there was no problem and the call was a scam.  Unfortunately, however, many people fall for scams such as this.  This is a common scam where targeted 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 another utility scam, potential victims receive an email that has a link to take them to their bill where they are prompted to provide personal information or make a payment through a phony website.  In another utility scam, people are called and told that they are eligible for a special promotion that will save them money.  They just need to provide personal information.

All of these are scams.   In the first, the targeted victim is coerced into giving their credit card or prepaid card information  to a scammer.  In the second, 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 and in the third, there is no special promotion and the victim ends up providing personal information that leads to identity theft.

TIPS

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 or a gift card.

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