Utility Scams Leave Subscribers in Hot Water

Utility Scams Leave Subscribers in Hot Water

July 14th, 2020 - Telecom, Identity and Protection

By Jim Tyrrell, Senior Director of Product Marketing, TNS

It is 101 degrees outside and you just received a call from your energy provider threatening to cut-off your power, meaning your air conditioning, in 30 minutes if you do not make a payment immediately. Your first reaction is a surge of panic; you are certain that you paid the bill last month but you don’t have much time to think before they shut off the power, so you scramble for your wallet.

This is how it feels for the millions of people who receive utility scam phone calls each year.  According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website, over 55,000 complaints have been made to the Do-Not-Call list in the past 12 months. Many fall prey to the scammer’s tricks, regardless of age or financial position as scam artists target both homes and businesses, especially during peak heating and cooling seasons.

These schemes are so common that many utility companies have a webpage dedicated to addressing them. In fact, Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) is a consortium of more than 130 US and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities (and their respective trade associations) dedicated to combating impostor utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices.

Scammers typically use the phone numbers published on utility provider websites to make the calls more convincing and deploy one of these techniques:

  • Claim your bill is past due or that your check bounced
  • Claim you overpaid on your last bill and ask for a bank account number or credit card number to “refund” you
  • In neighborhoods with a power outage, scammers might offer to turn on your power for a fee (only the utility company can turn the power back on)
  • Offer a reduction, discount or rebate on your bill

The good news is, there are many signs to look for when identifying a utility scam, including:

  • The representative is using a threatening or angry tone
  • The caller asks for payment via wire transfer, prepaid debit card, gift card, or cryptocurrency
  • The caller asks for payment immediately – sometimes as soon as in 30 minutes
  • You have paid your bill and haven’t received any notices

If you feel you are in real danger of your power getting shut off because of delinquent payments, be aware that utility companies will send many warnings before they shut down service. These will be in the form of email, a physical letter or a phone call.

With millions of Americans unemployed or furloughed because of the novel coronavirus, utilities across the country are not shutting off people’s service for nonpayment right now. The difference between a scam call and a legitimate one is that a utility would never inform you of a late payment for the first time and shut off your power in the same day. A legitimate past-due notification call would also inform you how to pay online or through mail instead of demanding payment over the phone. It is important to visit your energy provider’s website and learn how they will contact you in case of power outages, late payments and emergencies.

There are many courses of action to take when targeted by a utility scam artist: First, never give them any personal identifiable information, financial or other sensitive data. Hang up the phone and check your online account for up-to-date information about your bill. Second, don’t agree to send cash, wire money or provide credit card information without ensuring the legitimacy of the recipient. Third, you can report the call to the Attorney General hotline for your state, the FTC or visit the www.reportarobocall.com website.

Consumers can also protect themselves by leveraging telecom provider robocall detection solutions powered by TNS Call Guardian.

TNS analyzes robocall data from more than one billion daily call events across hundreds of telecom providers. Because of this volume of data, TNS extracts insights on emerging robocaller tactics and trends. While it is difficult to predict what the next major robocall scam will be, we do know this: scammers continue to rapidly evolve their tactics and targets to evade detection efforts. This means consumers must remain vigilant when it comes to suspicious incoming calls, and carriers must continue to commit to deploying innovative solutions to protect their subscribers.

Jim Tyrrell is Senior Director of Product Marketing at TNS and works closely with the wider product team and colleagues in Sales, Marketing and Operations, among others.


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