Fraudsters have taken advantage of rising electricity bills to prey on consumers by stealing personal and financial information. According to Hiya, phone utility scams grew 109% in 2016, and have seen triple digit growth in 2017.
Types of utility scam calls
Consumers should be aware of the three main types of utility scams:
- Offers to lower utility bill
Scammers call to offer a plan to help lower the consumer’s electric bill. This will usually include asking the homeowner for account information and/or billing information to “review” the account.
- Threats to shut off electricity
Scammers will call to threaten that electricity will be shut off unless victims pay a fake utility bill immediately. Consumers will also be directed to call an 800 number to avoid a service interruption. Watch out for messages that urge consumers to act fast, such as “This is an urgent public service announcement regarding your electricity bill.”
- Federal program assistance
The call will usually say the consumer is eligible for a reduced rate due to a federal program. These scammers will ask for money or personal information in exchange for government assistance.
12 scams to avoid this year
Hiya has flagged the top 12 fronts scammers use and the corresponding area codes. Here are the most consistent scams to look out for:
508 – Massachusetts (south-central and southeast)
Scammers call victims threatening that they will disconnect their electric or gas service if they do not make an immediate payment. They will also offer bill or credit discount rates if a customer provides them with their account number or any other personal information.
2. Public Service Enterprise Group (PSE&G)
201 – Hudson, NJ
Victims will receive a call from a bill collector notifying them that their PSE&G bill is past due and that their power will be shut off until a portion of the bill is not paid for immediately. The victim is told to purchase MoneyPak cash cards and must read the serial numbers back to the “representative,” giving the scammer access to the card’s funds.
3. Rochester Gas and Electric Corp (RG&E) and New York state Electric Gas Corp (NYSEG)
201 – Hudson, NJ
Scammers contact customers and disguise themselves as utility representatives who are calling regarding so-called billing issues. They attempt to convince the customer to purchase a “Green Dot MoneyPak Card” and if they do not purchase the card, the “representative” threatens to shut off their utilities.
4. Con Edison
914 – Westchester County
Scammer will spoof their numbers. showing up as Con Edison on a customer’s caller ID. They will then claim to be a representative from Con Edison and notify customers that their service will be shut off due to the unpaid bill. The customer is told that the only way they can prevent this from happening is to purchase pre-paid cards or to arrange a money transfer via MoneyGram to pay the bill.
5. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)
323 – Los Angeles, CA
Scammers are stealing PG&E customers’ identities by calling and posing as representatives of the company. Customers have been notified through phone calls and emails of overdue bills that appear to be sent form PG&E and need to be paid for immediately.
6. Southern California Edison (SCE)
323 – Los Angeles, CA
Spoofing caller IDs and claiming to be Southern California Edison, scammers are threatening and demanding customers give their credit card numbers, buy prepaid cards, or wire money directly to them or else they will turn off their electricity within an hour.
7. First Energy Corp/American Electric Power/Duke Energy
330 – Akron, OH
Scammers notify customers of overdue bills and threaten customers that they will shut off gas or electric services if they do not pay immediately. The growing number of calls is rising as temperatures begin to fall as scammers feed off of people’s fear of losing heat in the cold winter weather.
8. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)
510 – Oakland, CA
Scammers are stealing PG&E customers’ identities by calling and posing as company representatives. Customers have been notified through phone calls and emails of overdue bills that appear to have been sent from PG&E and need to be paid immediately.
9. Southern California Edison (SCE)
916 – Sacramento, CA
Scammers pose as SCE representatives and contact SCE customers, notifying them they must make immediate payments on past-due bills. They will disconnect their electric service immediately if they do not pay by prepaid cash or debit cards.
10. PPL Electric Utilities
717 – Harrisburg, PA
As callers from the PPL Electric Utilities call center, customers are being notified that their accounts have had several past due bills and need to make an immediate payment or else their electricity will be shut off. Customers are told to pay with prepaid debit cards and are told to call a phony call center where they are to enter their account information.
11. Duke Power
857 – Boston, MA
Using spoofing technology, scammers claim to be from Duke Power and pretend they are calling customers about that account being past overdue and if they do not pay immediately their services will be shut down immediately.
12. Illuminating Co, FirstEnergy, Dominion East Ohio, Cleveland Public Power, and Cleveland Water
440 – Cleveland, OH
Scammers notify customers of overdue bills and threaten customers that they will shut off gas or electric services if do not pay immediately. The growing number of calls is rising as temperatures begin to fall, scammers feed off of people’s fear of losing heat in the cold winter weather.