As fall advances and brings cooler temperatures with it, there’s a particularly heartless scam that preys on people’s fears of losing their electricity or other utilities. This scam particularly victimizes senior citizens who may be more trusting of others, and who may have even more to fear from having their power shut off, especially if they’re faced with spending cold nights alone and without heat.
Utility scams come in a variety of formats, with everything from sending out fraudulent bills to phony repairmen showing up and stating that they need to come inside to fix a faulty wire; again, they’re playing on customers’ fears, this time of being trapped in a burning home, an especially terrifying scenario for an older person who may not be able to exit the home without help. Only instead of a repairman from the utility company, it’s a scammer who rifles through your belongings and helps himself to your valuables. He may even make off with pieces of mail or other paperwork that contain personally identifiable information.
Other scams involving fraudulent utility contacts focus on fake bills or email contacts that require the customer to either pay a fee, a fine, or a repair cost, while still others have simply passed themselves off as needing updated information, most of it highly sensitive and secure data about the customer. Some of these scams have gone so far as to require the customer to send the requested payment or information with a prepaid debit card, a common tool among identity thieves.
First, the utility companies—or any legitimate company, for that matter, will not send you an email requesting a payment or your personal information, even as an update to their records. That type of contact will happen by postal mail. But more important, the utility companies will never ask you to make a payment by prepaid debit card, and will not expect an unsecured form of payment for repair fees or upgrades fees; any repair or upgrade that you are responsible for will have been given to you as a printed bill for your records.
Most important of all, though, is the fact that a legitimate employee of a utility company will never show up unannounced at your residence and expect to gain access to the inside. Anyone who does knock on your door should be verified before gaining entrance. You must close and lock the door, and then call the utility company to verify the person’s name and reason for entering. Do not worry about being rude or offending the individual; anyone who is there for valid reasons will be happy to wait while you check his credentials. If you’re pressured to let the person in, you need to lock the door and call the authorities immediately.
As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, ITRC is hosting an event on Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. to discuss the aftermath of heartless scams like this, and the emotional toll it takes on identity theft victims. For more information, please click here.