With the return of cold weather throughout much of the United States there has been a dramatic increase in telephone scams involving scammers posing as utility company customer service representatives demanding payments and threatening to turn off electrical power if a payment is not made immediately.  Scams involving utility bills for electric, water, oil or gas services have long been popular with scammers. These scams have multiple variations.

In one common utility 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.  This, of course leads to identity theft.

In another version of the utility scam, 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, debit card. Zelle, Venmo or gift cards.  A demand for payment by way of a gift card is a good sign that you are dealing with a scammer since legitimate utility companies never require payments or accept payments through git cards.  You also should never pay for a business charge through Zelle or Venmo because of the lack of protections from fraud.

In a third version of this scam, potential victims receive an email that has a link to take them to their bill, but if you click on the link, you either download malware or are prompted to provide information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

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.  It is also important to remember that no legitimate utility company will require you to immediately pay your bill over the phone through a gift card.

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.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

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