Scams involving utility bills for electric, water or gas services have long been popular with scammers. In one incident reported just prior to the Coronavirus pandemic a Rochester, New York woman was called by scammers posing as Rochester Gas and Electric who convinced her 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 the first scam, 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.
Recently some states such as Massachusetts, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic have prohibited utilities from terminating service of customers for non-payment which renders the more traditional form of this scam useless, however, scammers are nothing if not inventive and they have adapted their scam so that now many people are reporting receiving calls that appear to come from their electric company or other utility company informing them that as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic they are eligible for discounted service. All the customer has to do is to provide personal information such as their Social Security number over the phone to the purported utility employee merely for confirmation purposes. Of course this is a scam. Anyone providing their personal information to the scammer will end up becoming a victim of identity theft.
You can never be sure when you get an email, text message 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.
For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”
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