November 20, 2020
LANSING – As International Utility Scam Awareness Week winds down, Attorney General Dana Nessel's office is recognizing the week-long consumer advocacy campaign but also reminding utility customers to watch for the tactics used by scammers year-round.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, I want to remind all Michigan residents to beware of impostors attempting to scam utility customers," Nessel said. "Throughout the pandemic we have seen bad actors use fear tactics to prey on consumers – don't fall for it. Stay informed and protect yourself."
Recognized annually, International Utility Scam Awareness Week – running Nov. 16-20 this year – was created by Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a consortium of 145 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas companies and their respective trade associations. Attorney General Nessel also joined the Michigan Public Service Commission recently to recognize the week and raise awareness about how consumers can avoid falling victim to scammers.
UUAS and its member companies have seen an increase in scam attempts upon customers due to the pandemic. In fact, many tactics being used are claiming COVID-19 as a reason to gain access to personal information. Although impostors continue to target utility customers, UUAS has succeeded in taking nearly 6,000 scam-related toll-free numbers out of operation with the help of customer reporting.
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"Customers need to be on high alert as we continue to see impostor utility scams rise across North America," said UUAS Executive Director Monica Martinez. "Scammers demand money or personal information on the spot—usually with threatening language—and indicate that service will be disconnected immediately. Anyone and everyone, from senior households to small business owners, is at risk of being targeted."
UUAS advises customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened during contact with a scammer to contact their local utility or law enforcement authorities. Here are tips to protect yourself from falling victim to utility scams:
Signs of Potential Scam Activity:
- Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer their utility bill is past due, and service will be disconnected—usually within an hour—if a payment is not made.
- Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card, cryptocurrency, or to send funds via a mobile app to make a bill payment.
- Request for prepaid card: Customers are instructed to pay with a prepaid debit card. The impostor asks the for the prepaid card's number, which grants instant access to the card's funds.
How Customers Can Protect Themselves:
- Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service interruption. Utility companies do not specify how customers should make a bill payment and always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including online payments, phone payments, automatic bank drafts, mail, or in person.
- If someone threatens immediate service interruption, customers should be aware. Customers with past due accounts receive multiple advanced notices, typically by mail and in their regular monthly bill. Utilities will never notify of a disconnection in one hour or less.
- If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email, or shut the door. The utility should be contacted immediately at the number on the most recent monthly bill or on the utility's official website, not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 9-1-1.
- If you've mistakenly provided bank account or credit card information to someone you suspect might have been an impostor, call your bank or credit card company immediately. If you have a complaint or believe you are the victim of a utility scam, report it online to the Michigan Public Service Commission or call 800-292-9555.
- You may also file a complaint with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Team.
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Visit the Attorney General's website and the UUAS website for additional information about protecting personal information and impostor scams.
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