I almost fell for an electric company scam recently.
A pair of so-called energy company representatives were going door to door in my building. While her partner-in-crime prowled the building, the scammer told me I needed to lock in the lowest seasonal rates. She asked to see my utilities bill and, caught off-guard, I showed it to her.
That was my first mistake. Never show your account information to a random stranger at your door.
I finally wised up to the suspiciousness of the situation and asked her to leave. As far as I know, I stopped the scam just in time. And I learned the valuable lesson of how to recognize electric company scams.
So, what were these scam artists trying to accomplish? Why did they tell me a fake story about seasonal rate hikes?
Best case scenario, they were trying to trick me into switching to a high-cost energy provider. Worst case scenario, they were after my personal information for identity theft.
Unfortunately, electric company scams have sprung up around the nation. As scam artists have successfully wrested money away from unsuspecting customers, others have tried to get in on the action. Read on so you don’t become a victim of these common scams.
6 common utility company money scams
1. Tricking you into switching energy providers
This first one is probably the least damaging of the utility money scams, but it will still cost you. In this scam, energy service providers (ESCOs) will switch your provider without your permission.
These ESCOs send salespeople from door to door to get your electric company account number. The representatives try to manipulate you while giving you minimal information. Some even claim to be from your current energy company.
In my case, the scammer told me this was a common transaction that everyone in the building took part in each season. This line, of course, was totally false. Switching energy providers can, in some cases, lead to lower rates. More often than not, though, a shady provider will hike up its rates after a few months.
If you want to switch ESCOs, you’re much better off doing your own research from the Department of Public Utilities. Don’t share your account number with a salesperson at your door or on the phone. Chances are, you’ll end up losing money.
2. Threatening to turn your power off
In this scenario, scammers call or email with the news that you’re behind on payments. If you don’t immediately send them money, they will shut your power off.
They often target small businesses that would get hit hard if their power went out. Often, these scammers use caller ID spoofing software. It looks like they’re calling from your actual energy company.
They will ask for your bank account information, credit card information, a money wire transfer, or a prepaid debit card, like a Green Dot card. Wire transfers and debit cards are especially dangerous. Scammers can drain the money anonymously from anywhere in the world.
If you get a call like this, beware. Real energy companies will never threaten to shut off your power or demand immediate payment over the phone. You’ll get a written notice of any issues, and you can check this information online in your secure account.
3. Stealing from you during a power outage
Electric company scams also pop up during power outages. If weather knocks down out your electricity, a scammer may call offering to fix your power with a one-time payment.
Electric companies will never demand payment to restore your power. If you get a call like this, hang up right away!
4. Stealing your identity with a fake federal program
In this nationwide scam, identity thieves are after your personal information. They may show up at your door, call you on the phone, email you, or hook you in with online ads.
They claim to represent a special federal program that will subsidize your utility bills. To be part of it, all you have to do is redirect your money towards a new account. Maybe you can share your name, address, and social security number while you’re at it.
Never share your personal information with an unauthorized program over the phone or email. For real government-sponsored energy assistance, go straight to the official source.
5. Collecting bogus fees to replace or repair equipment
In this scam, thieves demand payment to install energy-efficient meters or repair equipment. If you need an equipment update, your energy company will notify you in advance.
It will include any charges as part of your regular utility bill. You’ll never have to make separate payments for equipment installation or repair.
6. Robbing your home
The scariest scenario involves home robbery. Criminals posing as door-to-door representatives gain access to your home. One talks to you about utility costs while the other snatches up your valuables.
Just remember that you never need to let solicitors into your home. Nor should you produce paperwork, like your utility bill. If something feels off, close the door and lock it.
Reputable energy companies don’t send door-to-door salespeople around to look at your bill or “lock in seasonal rates.” If someone comes knocking, you’d be better off not answering.
Keep yourself safe from money scams
Scam artists are good at what they do. They try to confuse, pressure, or otherwise manipulate you to get what they want. To resist their tactics, you should arm yourself with knowledge. Know that your energy company will never send door-to-door solicitors. It won’t demand immediate payment, nor will it collect valuable personal information over email or the phone.
If you experience any of these money scams, first close your door or hang up your phone. Then call your electric company and notify them of the scam. If you feel in danger, you could call the police, your local state attorney general’s office, or the Federal Trade Commission. By recognizing the signs of common scams, you can make sure you don’t become a victim.
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