Gas, electricity and water are not purchases you regularly think about.
However, if someone called and said your account was overdue and that your service was about to be shut off, it’d be frightening. You might do whatever they say to avoid the consequences. And that’s exactly what scammers are counting on.
The Department of Consumer Affairs has warned of scams targeting utility customers. A scammer calls and claims the potential victim is overdue on a utility bill and that they will soon turn the power off. The scammer will then instruct the victim to buy a prepaid debit card and ask for the number on the card before taking its whole value. Transactions on these cards are difficult to trace, which means recovering the money is nearly impossible.
If you’re targeted by one of these scams, stay calm and don’t succumb to threats.
Know Your Rights
Utility companies don’t operate like these scammers. No utility company representative would tell you that your service will be shut off in minutes unless you pay immediately. There are regulations that govern how and when service can be turned off.
First, they’re required to send a notification of termination, a letter identifying the reason, the date and how you can prevent this shut-off. This process is cumbersome, so many companies won’t send one until you’re more than two payments behind.
Second, turning off your service is expensive, so utility providers will make several attempts to contact you first. If you think you’re being scammed, ask for a record of past attempts at contact. A utility company will gladly provide this information; a scammer will hesitate when questioned.
Use Safe Methods of Payment
Utility companies process hundreds or thousands of payments every day using established procedures. They will never insist on such specific means of payment.
Always choose a secured means of payment, such as your credit or debit card. These cards offer fraud protection and limit your liability if something goes wrong with the transaction.
If you’re not already signed up, FSU Credit Union offers automatic bill payment to make paying your bills simple.
See Something, Say Something
Demanding money over the phone is illegal, as is making unsolicited commercial phone calls. If you get a call like this, hang up immediately. Next, contact your local authorities, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as the FCC. These services help to protect consumers against scammers and your tip could even help them track down those responsible. You can also report violations of the no-call registry at complaints.donotcall.gov.
If you’ve run into payment trouble with utility companies in the past, work to get ahead on your utility payments. If money is the issue, there are federal and state programs designed to help. One such program is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides utility payment credits for low-income individuals.
You might also look into programs that average your utility payments. This can make budgeting easier, ensuring that you can pay each bill and avoid being a target for these scams.
Receiving a debt collection call is never enjoyable, but what’s even worse is being tricked out of your hard-earned money. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If you’re an FSU Credit Union member and think one of your accounts has been compromised by scammers, call us as soon as possible, we’ll work with you to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts and help you monitor the situation.