FCC: Don’t Be Fooled By Callers Posing As Utility Employees Demanding Payment

Image courtesy of Matt Reinbold

We’ve heard about scammers who call up consumers and pretend to be utility company workers, demanding immediate payment. And as we head into the winter, when many people might be endangered by an interruption in heat, the Federal Communications Commission is warning folks to be especially wary of such calls.

These calls may ask for consumers to pay with prepaid debit cards, credit cards, or gift cards, the FCC notes, and say that if they pay immediately, their heating service won’t be disconnected. Many follow these instructions via interactive voice response calling systems that sound like the kind of bots a legitimate company might use.

Once a consumer follows instructions, they’re connected to a live “customer service representative” who asks for the access code for a credit, debit, or gift card. That information lets the scammer access the card or sell it to a third party.

If you get a call warning you of a balance you don’t think you owe to your local utility, hang up, and look up your utility company’s phone number on a recent statement or official website. Call that number to verify it’s legitimate.

You should also report the incident to your real utility company, the police, the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant, and to the FCC’s Consumer Help Center.

The FCC also has a few helpful tips to keep unwanted calls at bay in the first place:

• Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.

• If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the company’s phone number independently on your recent bill or their legitimate website, and contact them through an official number, web form or email address to see if they called you. By initiating the communication yourself, you can verify that the request for payment is legitimate.

• If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify – and then target – live respondents.

• If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC and other appropriate authorities so they can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.

• Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service that allows subscribers to block unwanted calls. If not, encourage your provider to start offering a blocking service. You can also visit the FCC’s website on “Web Resources for Blocking Robocalls” for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help you reduce unwanted calls.

• Legitimate utility companies will not demand payment via gift cards.