Lisa Lake is consumer education specialist for the Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC. Consumer.FTC.gov
Utility scams are spreading, and they are especially common when severe weather strikes—a time when people might be most vulnerable.
In one version of a utility scam, someone claiming to be with your local utility company comes around during a power outage and offers to reconnect your service for a cash payment. Unfortunately, consumers who are desperate to get the power turned back on quickly fall for this ruse. Eventually, the utility company gets the power back on, but not because of anything done by the so-called “representative” who took your money.
In another version, you get a call or an e-mail warning that your power will be turned off unless you pay your bill immediately. You are told to provide credit or debit card information or wire the money.
What to do: If someone claims that you are behind on utility payments, look up the utility company’s phone number yourself to make sure that you are dealing with the real thing or go directly to its website (not through any links in an e-mail) to determine the status of your account. Don’t pay cash to anyone who comes to your home offering “turn-on” services even if the person has a uniform or shows what appears to be an ID from the utility company.
Do not click links or call numbers that show up in unexpected e-mails, texts or phone messages.
If you suspect that someone has tried to scam you, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov/complaint or 877-382-4357) as well as with your state consumer protection agency, providing whatever information you have about the culprit.