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Have you paid your utility bill? Chances are that you have but that isn’t stopping scammers from taking advantage of businesses and consumers by impersonating electric, water and cable company employees looking to deactivate for nonpayment. Utility companies across the area are warning their customers of this scam. Scammers will impersonate utility company employees with threats of deactivation of service ... unless they pay up immediately. 

Victims report receiving calls where the person on the line identifies themselves as a representative from your local utility company deactivation team. He or she tells you that you are late on your bill and you need to pay immediately, or your utilities will be shut off.  

However, in addition to accepting payment by credit card, the caller sometimes wants you to pay by using a prepaid debit cards or gift cards. The scammer instructs you to obtain one and call them back. This is a huge warning sign. Prepaid debit cards and gift cards are like cash. Once you transfer the money, you will be unable to retrieve it

Prepaid debit cards are becoming an increasingly popular method of payment for scammers. Wire transfer services have tightened their security, so crooks have turned to these prepaid cards instead. The cards are difficult to trace, and you do not need photo identification to collect or spend the money. Be sure you treat a prepaid debit card like cash and remember that transactions cannot be reversed.

Scammers are also using other ways to prey on utility customers. Some will claim that the meter is not working properly and must be immediately replaced — at the customer's expense — or the service will be shut off. Other scammers are using email and door to door visits to reach customers. Watch out for emails disguised as overdue notices from your utility company.

  

Tips for spotting a utility scam:

Because local utility companies do sometimes contact their customers by phone, it can be difficult to tell a scammer from a real agent. Here are some tips: 

•Prepaid debit cards or other unusual forms of payment are red flags: If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card, a cash app, or wire transfer, this is a huge warning sign. Your utility company will accept a check or credit card and will usually direct you to one of their payment locations. 

•Don't cave to pressure to pay immediately: If you feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative. 

•Remember that meters are usually the property of the utility company and would be the responsibility of the utility to replace or repair. 

•Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes, cable or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, don’t get lured outside to view broken meters, wires or point out property lines. This usually results in a second person robbing your house while you’re out.

•Always ask utility employees for proper identification. Utility companies provide their employees with identification and won’t mind if you call to verify their identity.

There is never a shortage of ways for scam artists to try to separate you from your money, but with a little knowledge and a few questions, you might just be the one that gets away.

For more tips you can trust, visit bbb.org

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, Web site: BBB.org or email: info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org

 

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