Spring is only a few days old, but utility scams, many of which are related to Winter heating bills continue to find victims. Scams involving utility bills for electric, water or gas services have long been popular with scammers. In one recently reported case a Rochester, New York woman who was called by scammers posing as Rochester Gas and Electric was convinced to pay scammers $2,100 through prepaid debit cards before she realized she had been scammed. And she is not alone. Many people fall for scams such as this. 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 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.
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 or a gift card.
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