With the United States crossing a grim milestone as the COVID-19 death toll topped 500,000, utility companies are cautioning about new scams that have arisen in the past year as opportunistic fraudsters look to take advantage of the pandemic.
Utility companies across the country have issued alerts regarding new scams as they seek to allow their customers to protect themselves from scammers exploiting the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to officials, one of the largest threats involves scammers aggressively threatening to disconnect service, claiming that bills are past due, unless a payment is swiftly made remotely.
Area residents have reported receiving similar calls that have also led to the loss of identifying and personal information that scammers can use.
Scammers have also been instructing customers to purchase prepaid cards, gift cards, or Bitcoin to make payments over the phone to purported utility company billers. Others have been instructed to use Zelle or to make an online payment to ensure that their service is not shut off.
Officials said that oftentimes if a person is scammed once, the fraudsters may circle back around by alleging that there was an error and the payment has to be resubmitted for a second time.
Other fraud opportunities that have been reported involve scammers arriving in-person at homes or businesses claiming to be a utility representative asking for personal information.
Some have reported receiving calls asking for the PIN number on gift cards, which allows them instant access to the funds before the victim can realize, and a phone scam has been making the rounds where victims are required to deposit money to the fraudster’s account for a priority meter installation, threatening to disconnect service if money is not transferred immediately.
According to officials, warning signs one may be getting scammed include:
- An unscheduled or unsolicited call or visit from someone claiming to represent your power or water company;
- Threats to cut off service unless an overdue bill or maintenance cost is paid immediately;
- A demand for payment by wire transfer, cryptocurrency, gift card, or cash-reload card — scammers’ favored methods;
- Payments on credit card or bank statements for utility accounts you did not open.
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