Scammers claim utilities will be shut off unless consumer makes immediate payment
√ Consumers should be alert and follow basic tips to protect personal information
Submitted by the New York State Public Service Commission
The New York State Public Service Commission is alerting consumers of phone calls in which scammers pretend to represent the PSC and request money over the phone. The PSC regulates electric, gas, steam, telecommunications/cable, and private water utilities in New York. The scammers claiming to be from the PSC call utility consumers with a claim that the consumers have been overcharged by their local utility, and if the consumer provides the scammers with a credit card or a bank account number, the consumer would be reimbursed for the alleged overcharge.
“These scammers are making claims about a process that simply does not exist, and it’s a flat-out falsehood,” Public Service Commission Chair Rory M. Christian said. “Our employees would never call consumers asking for credit card or bank account information. It is simply and plainly wrong that scammers try to defraud consumers.”
The referenced scam relates to a phone call received by a New York state employee, who immediately alerted her supervisors about the incident. If any New Yorker receives such a call, they should call or contact their utility directly if they believe there is any question about the status of the consumer’s utility service.
Utilities give repeated notices prior to terminations including reaching out to consumers with past-due balances by phone to offer payment options. However, utilities do not specify that the payment must be by a prepaid card, a non-traceable money transfer, or some other nonrefundable manner. If someone demands payment via a non-traceable method, or a method that is simply different than how one has successfully paid their utility bills in the past, consumers just need to pull the plug on those scams by hanging up the phone and reporting the call.
To avoid falling victim to these scams, consumers should follow the tips below:
•Hang up and call the utility company yourself. Call the company using the number on your bill or the utility company’s website even if the person who contacted you left a call-back number. Often, those call-back numbers are fake, even if they sometimes sound authentic. If the message came by text, don’t respond. If your bill says you owe anything, pay it as you normally would, not as the caller says.
•Consumers should never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, date of birth, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if they are at all suspicious. Consumers should not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with "Yes" or "No." Consumers should exercise caution if they are being pressured for information immediately.
•Utility companies do not ask for payments via gift cards or cash transfer apps. Gift cards allow scammers to get money without a trace. Real utility companies issue several disconnection warnings before shutting off utilities, and they never demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment. The utility will not call the customers to threaten. The utility communicates via letters, bills, emails and authorized texts.
•Use call blocking tools from your phone provider and check into apps that block calls. The FCC allows phone companies to block robocalls by default based on reasonable analytics (see fcc.gov/robocalls).
•Do not rely on the number that comes up on your phone. Callers can “spoof” the number to look like a government agency or local utility company. If someone has contacted an individual and they are suspicious, they should hang up and go directly to the official website for the agency or utility company, or call the number on their utility bill to confirm whether there is a problem with their account.
•File a complaint with the PSC.