Utility Scams: How to Avoid the Pesky Crooks

Every November, activists all over the country unite in Utility Scam Awareness Week efforts.

But at American Water, we like to start early, because we know that as summer ends and chaotic back-to-school and work schedules start up again, customers’ busy lives can make them more vulnerable to utility scammers.

These days, the greatest focus is on data breaches and digital-security issues, but you should also keep your guard up about the utility imposter scams that are literally right in front of you at your door, on your phone and in your email inbox. Imposter scams actually rank third-highest in the list of complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and generated a whopping $328 million in reported losses in 2017 alone.

However, the good news is that because individuals can personally interact with these kinds of scammers, they actually have a better line of defense—and that goes for everyone and anyone. That’s right, anyone can fall victim. Utility scam victims aren’t just seniors. While senior citizens lose more money per scam than younger people, a recent report found that consumers in their twenties lose money to scammers more often than people over the age of 70.

Utility scammers know no boundaries, and they are getting more and more savvy (i.e., believable).

So, whether you’re out to protect yourself, your parents or your young-adult children, here are my top tips for avoiding those dangerous, pesky crooks:

  1. Know that they can strike anywhere. Scammers today use a variety of methods, such as phone calls, texts, in-person visits and email.
  2. Don’t be fooled into false security just because a person looks the part and uses the right language. Scammers do their homework and prepare, right down to wearing believable uniforms with badges and putting a utility logo on their truck.
  3. Ask questions. Know the ins and outs of your utility service. Quiz the person on details related to your home, and if they come up short, end the conversation and contact authorities. If you’re contacted to make a payment that is higher than usual, at a time of the month that is not consistent with other payments or is in addition to a monthly charge—stop, call your utility provider, and inquire about it.
  4. If you suspect someone who contacted you or who is at the door might not be legitimate, phone the utility provider, and ask if a service person was sent to your house. If that person is at your door, make that call behind a locked door while he or she is still outside.
  5. File a report with the FTC or local law enforcement if you suspect you have been scammed, and contact the utility provider potentially being impersonated. The more authorities you inform, the more that can be done to prevent someone else from being victimized.

Utilities United offers several additional insights on how today’s scammers are succeeding, as well as more tips you can follow to protect your finances, your home, your loved ones and yourself.