Communications and Customer Care

New guide details strategies to address utility customer scams

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A recently released guide by Utilities United Against Scams offers details on the types of scams facing utility customers these days, as well as tips on how customers can avoid scams.

Utilities United Against Scams is a consortium of more than 100 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities (and their respective trade associations), which focuses on raising awareness of utility scams targeting customers.

The second annual Utility Scam Awareness Day will be held Nov. 15 and is supported by a week-long advocacy and awareness campaign focused on exposing the tactics scammers use to steal money from utility customers and on educating customers on how to protect themselves, the group noted in a Nov. 13 news release.

The guide was authored by Sheri Givens, president of Givens Energy and executive director of Utilities United Against Scams.

Funding for the guide was provided by the American Public Power Association, the American Gas Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Association of Water Companies and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The guide notes that North American utility customers are reporting millions of dollars lost annually to scams. It cited a 2017 report published by the Better Business Bureau, which found an average of about one scam report is received every 15 minutes, the top means of consumer contact by scammers is by phone, and the median financial loss to consumers is $274.

“Of the 30 different types of scams tracked and categorized, utility scam victims were found to have a median financial loss of $500, with the top payment method being prepaid cards and the top method of contact being by phone. BBB has found that people are more susceptible to utility scams than they are to Internal Revenue Service scams,” the report said.

The guide notes that while scammers typically use three tactics (phone, in-person, and internet) to target utility customers, there are more than 10 types of known scams, “with new scams emerging almost daily, and scammers might use one, two, or all three tactics on customers for certain types of scams.” The report offers details on the specific types of scams used in the areas of phone, in-person and over the Internet.

Another section of the guide offers tips to avoid scams.

General tips to avoid impostor utility scams include protecting personal information and not being rushed in specific situations.

The guide also recommends that customers always ask questions. “Ask the person calling you or visiting you in person to provide you with your account number, your last payment amount, date of payment, and their employee identification number,” the guide advises. “If he/she is a legitimate utility representative, this information will be readily accessible.”

In addition, customers should stay updated on scams by doing things like reviewing guides such as the one produced by Utilities United Against Scams, monitoring local news reports and websites, utility and trade association websites (including www.UtilitiesUnited.org), local law enforcement websites, state attorneys general websites, federal government websites and consumer information websites

“Scammers are constantly updating their tactics, and you will need to stay educated on new types of scams and tips to avoid them. Pass on information about impostor electric, water, and natural gas scams to people you know,” the guide noted.

The guide is available here.