Looking to save money right now? No matter how COVID has impacted your finances, be sure to say, “no” to this scam deal. BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports of con artists impersonating internet, cable tv, or electricity company representatives. They claim to offer a great deal or rebate on your bill, but it’s really a way to trick unsuspecting customers into shelling out hundreds of dollars.
The scam begins when you receive an unsolicited call offering you reduced rates on your bill. Speaking to the “customer service representative” may be quite convincing. Many scammers use the same hold music as big-name cable companies and duplicate a company’s caller menu.
When speaking with the representative, they seem very professional. The caller explains that the company is offering a special promotion. If you pay several months up front, you can receive a discounted monthly rate or free perks, like premium cable channels.
Then, things get fishy. Instead of using the payment information your cable company already has, they ask you to purchase pre-paid debit cards to make the up-front payment. Don’t do it! If you purchase the cards and send the information to the caller, your money will be lost for good.
This scam is added to the already popular utility imposter scam that consumers and businesses see on a regular basis. In this con, scammers impersonate water, electric, and gas company representatives. They frequently threaten residents and business owners with deactivation of service if they don't pay up immediately. One variation of this scam is common with restaurants who get the “disconnection” call just before their lunch or dinner rush.
Utility company imposters will typically reach you with a telephone call or knock on your door claiming to be a representative from the local water, electric, or gas company. In the most common scenario, the scammer informs you that payment is overdue and the utility will be shut off if you don’t pay up immediately.
Scammers use a variety of other tricks to prey on utility customers. A “representative” may appear at your door in a plausible work uniform claiming that the electric meter is not working properly and must be immediately replaced — at your expense. In a particularly alarming form of this con, the scammer may gain access to your home to perform “repairs” or an “energy audit” with the intent of stealing your valuables. These cons may also involve promises of energy discounts with the aim of taking your money, personal information, or possibly the account details needed to switch you to another utility provider without your consent (an illegal practice known as “slamming”).
How to Avoid a Utility Impersonation Con
•Never make payments with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Scammers prefer these payment methods because there is nothing you can do to get your money back. Remember, legitimate companies almost always accept checks and credit cards as the primary means of payment.
•If someone shows up at your doorstep, verify their identity. If you weren’t expecting a visit, ask the person for their ID and then call the company to verify that they are an employee.
•When in doubt, verify special deals with your utility company. If you are unsure about a promotional offer you’ve been presented with, get the customer service number from the company’s official website or your latest bill. Call the company directly to make sure the offer is real.
•Pressure to pay immediately. Scammers will press for immediate payment and may try to intimidate you into giving them your personal and banking information.
A good rule is to never allow anyone into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Ask utility employees for proper identification before letting them enter and don’t let anyone lure you outside so one of their partners can sneak into your home to steal your valuables.
For more information on this or any other scam, visit www.BBB.org/scamtips.
Kelvin Collins is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the International Association of Better Business Bureaus (IABBB). The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, website: www.bbb.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org