Watch out for utility scams

State News

Xcel Energy, along with other utilities nationwide, has been busy spreading the word about utility scams on this, the fourth annual Utility Scam Awareness Day.

The issue is important because scammers have become more sophisticated in their efforts to steal people’s money and identities.

And the numbers show more people are falling prey to utility scams nationwide. This year, for example, residential Xcel Energy customers have reported a more than 400 percent increase in scams over 2018, while commercial customers have reported a 35 percent increase in scams compared to last year.

The Better Business Bureau says the average loss for the victim of a utility scam is $500.

“We want customers to be aware and check their online account or use the mobile app to review their bill,” said Chris Cardenas, vice president of Customer Care at Xcel Energy. “Calls from Xcel Energy about past due bills will never include threats or demands for payment within the hour.”

Increasingly, scammers are using technology that allows them to “spoof” a phone number, so when customers view the caller ID, the call appears to be coming from the utility company.

Other consumers report receiving emails or even having scammers posing as utility company representatives knocking on their door.

Xcel offers a collection of tips to help you spot a potential scam. These apply for just about any situation, not just utilities:

  • No utility will never threaten to disconnect service immediately without making a payment on the spot.
  • Scammers may instruct customers to buy prepaid cards, which are widely available at retail stores and work like cash. This should be a big red flag for you. If you give the scammer that card number, the money is gone and untraceable. The same applies for money orders, counter checks and wiring money.
  • Be wary of calls that come in at night and on weekends. Reputable utilities (and other official agencies) will usually contact people from around 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Business customers should also be aware that scammers may call during peak business hours, with urgent threats that their service will be cut-off during their busiest times of day.
  • Xcel Energy (and other official agencies) will not ask customers for personal bank account or credit card numbers to refund an overpayment of a bill. Overpayments are usually applied to future bills, or if they are refunded, that will only be done by mailing a check to the customer’s address on file.

How to protect yourself:

  • If someone threatens you with immediate disconnection, hang up the phone or shut the door. Immediately contact your utility or local law enforcement about the effort to collect money or information from you.
  • Again, Xcel Energy and other businesses or official agencies will never instruct you to purchase a prepaid card in order to avoid service disconnection or arrest or any other legal action

The Federal Trade Commission website also has additional tips for consumers to protect themselves from fraud and options for reporting it: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/identity-theft-and-data-security/filing-complaint

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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