BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Every year, people fall victim to utility scams — in which people pose as workers for your utility company and use fraudulent methods to obtain funds or personal information. To help raise the public’s knowledge of these scams — and the best ways to avoid them — the Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) organization, a group of over 150 US and Canadian utility companies, has not only declared November 16 as Utility Scam Awareness Day, but also devoted an entire week to the topic.

November 13-19 is Scam Awareness Week, and the UUAS would like to take the opportunity to remind citizens that there are more utility scams than one would typically expect. In fact, as multiple scams reported in North Dakota alone would show, the number of utility scams has only increased in the past years. In particular, impostor scams — where scammers will contact customers and threaten the removal of services to seek financial and personal information — have seen tremendous rises recently, especially with the advent of payment methods that are harder to trace like cryptocurrency.

These scams can also come in all forms, including e-mail, phone calls, and even door-to-door visits — all focusing on requests for immediate payment and threats to disconnect one’s service. Despite the variety of these plots, though, there are thankfully a few easy ways to identify and counteract them. The biggest thing to remember, according to both the UUAS and our own Montana-Dakota Utilities, is that utility businesses will never ask for payments using pre-paid debit cards, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or any third-party digital payment mobile applications. You’ll also be notified multiple times before any interruptions in your service.

If you are even the least bit skeptical regarding a termination notice, it’s advised that you call your utility company by the contact information on their website immediately to confirm. “Customers shouldn’t be afraid to end a call that they suspect is a scam,” said executive director of UUAS Monica Martinez in a press release. “You can always end the call and dial the number on your utility bill or on the utility website to confirm. Most utilities will send overdue notices in the mail rather than by calling, and they always provide several notices that help educate customers about the options available to help them manage financial hardships.”

Through promoting awareness of these scams and working with customers who help report these scammers, businesses involved in the UUAS alone have assisted law enforcement in removing nearly 13,000 numbers used by scammers from phone operations.

“Utilities will continue to unite to combat scammers by spreading awareness and by working
with telecom partners to remove access to phone lines for reported scammers,” said UUAS chair Bud Ajdukovic in the release. “We encourage policymakers to adopt stronger public protections and encourage private citizens and small businesses to stay vigilant against scams.”

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud or felt threatened during any contact with a scammer, it’s advised to inform both your local law enforcement and utility company.

For more information on utility scams, visit Utilities United’s website. The Federal Trade Commission also has information regarding protecting one’s personal information from imposter scams.