How to Avoid Utility Scams and Fraud

How to Avoid Utility Scams and Fraud

How to Avoid Utility Scams and FraudScams targeting consumers are a widespread problem. There are hundreds of known scams, and new ones are always emerging. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), your residential utility consumer advocate, has developed this fact sheet to help you avoid common utility scams.

What is a scam?

A scam is a scheme that involves tricking people into giving away their personal information or money to a fraudulent individual or company. Consumers become scam victims when they pay for fraudulent products or services or compromise their personal or account information.

Scam information is also available from the Ohio Attorney General, www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov, and the Federal Trade Commission, www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Common scam tactics

Imposters pretending to be from your utility company may demand immediate payment by threatening to disconnect your service. Scammers may also seek access to your home or personal information or make other false claims about products and services or special programs to help pay utility bills.

Emergency payment scams. Beware of anyone claiming you will be disconnected if you do not pay immediately. Utilities are required to provide prior notice well before services can be disconnected for non-payment and do not disconnect service outside normal business hours.

Utility companies do not require immediate payment by prepaid debit card or gift card or contact you for personal information. If you are told your account is past due, check your account’s status online or call the customer service number listed on your utility bill. Learn about your rights from OCC’s Your Guide to Energy Disconnection and Reconnection fact sheet.

Utility worker imposters. Someone may claim to be at your home to reset, repair, replace or inspect your meter or other utility-related devices. If utility employees or authorized contractors have a legitimate need to access your home, you will be notified in advance with time to confirm the appointment. Utility service or equipment related charges will typically be added to your bill.

After widespread power outages a scammer may offer to restore power for an upfront fee. Utilities do not require payment to restore service after a natural disaster or related outages. Learn more, including about the critical customer list, from OCC’s Power Outages: Safety Tips and Consumer Rights fact sheet.

False refunds or discounts. You may be promised refunds, free products, or services. Always thoroughly check out claims before providing any information or allowing a stranger into your home. If a legitimate overpayment has occurred, your account will be credited without any need to provide or verify utility account information.

Caller ID spoofing. “Spoofing” technology can be used to change the readout appearing on Caller ID. Do not answer calls when you are unsure. Hang up if a call seems suspicious. Do not call questionable or unverified numbers. Contact your utility with the number found on your bill.

Door-to-door. Scammers posing as utility representatives or as natural gas or electric service suppliers have been reported. Always ask to see a picture ID and check them out before allowing anyone to enter your home. Be cautious about sharing any personal information, including utility bills.

Avoid being scammed

Be aware of common tactics and use these best practices to avoid fraud.

Protect personal information. Utilities will not contact you to ask for your personal or account information. Be wary about sharing or verifying sensitive information like account numbers, credit card information or any personal information. Do not show your utility bill to anyone claiming to need to check or verify charges.

Be cautious. Be wary of allowing an unknown salesperson into your home. Be cautious of calling unfamiliar numbers. Hang up on callers who ask you to press a number or dial a toll-free phone number.

Take your time. Scammers often use high pressure tactics and want you to act fast, so you cannot verify their claims. Review your bills monthly and question unfamiliar charges.

Report scams

If you suspect fraud contact local law enforcement. The Attorney General’s Office can also address utility scams. Call 1-800-282-0515, or complete their online complaint form at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov. A form can also be printed and mailed to:

Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Section
30 E. Broad St., 14th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215

Direct questions and complaints about utility services, including scams, to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. File informal complaints via their online complaint form at www.puco.ohio.gov, call 1-800-686-7826, or write to them at:

Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
Attn: CSD
180 E. Broad St.
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3793

 


 

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