You get a call or a visit from someone claiming to be from your energy provider. They explain that your bill is past due and threaten to shut off your service if you don't make a payment. However, you know your monthly bill was paid. Do you need to worry?
The answer is yes, but not for the reason you might think. Energy bill scams are becoming increasingly common. Scammers will use aggressive tactics, such as insisting your account is delinquent and threatening to shut off service immediately. As a consumer, it can be difficult to ignore these convincing phone calls, emails, text messages, and even home visits.
To protect yourself from scams, be on the lookout for these red flags:
- Demand for payment in unconventional ways, such as a prepaid debit card
- Requests for personal information over the phone, such as your social security number and bank account numbers
- The scammer has no proof of employment with your energy company and isn't wearing branded clothing or materials
In some cases, scammers will use seasonal bill spikes as an opportunity to swindle energy consumers. For example, they might show up at your door with a fake promotion to help you save money. This type of fraud is most common in the summer and winter months when increased energy demand leads to higher bills, and consumers may be more receptive to savings opportunities.New capabilities for spoofing, or disguising, caller identification (ID) can make the phone number you see on your caller ID appear to be your utility company's. Spoofing makes it easier for scammers to deceive you and makes it more difficult for you to immediately verify the call.
Follow these steps if you encounter an energy bill scam:
- Do not be rushed. If someone calls, appears, or emails saying you have to pay your bill immediately to avoid disconnection, tell them you would like to verify that they are a legitimate utility company representative by calling a verified number from your utility bill.
- Beware if a caller exhibits impatience, annoyance, or anger when you question their authority. While a scammer will discourage you from hanging up and calling the number on your utility bill, a real utility representative will encourage you to do so for your own peace of mind.
- If you are not 100% sure it’s an actual representative from your utility calling, hang up and call your utility back at the number listed on your monthly statement.
- Never click on any links or attachments in any email unless you have verified the sender. You may be directed to a scam website designed to steal your personal information, or you might install malicious software on your computer without knowing it.
- Spread the word to family, friends and neighbors so that they don't become victims of the scam.
Keep in mind that if your bill is in fact unpaid, your energy provider will not immediately disconnect service. First, you'll receive a bill highlighting the overdue amount. If this payment is still not received, the next step is a disconnection notice.
Your energy provider will give you ample time to make payments and will never use threatening tactics. With this knowledge, you can empower yourself against scammers.