COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we live. Americans are spending more time in our homes, working, playing and living inside as a way to keep each other safe. It’s an uncertain time, so it’s no surprise that many people are eager to save some money on their utility bills. However, BBB Scam Tracker reports show that con artists are impersonating internet, cable TV and power company representatives to trick unsuspecting consumers into sending them hundreds of dollars.
Not surprising, scammers often place unsolicited calls, texts or emails to the homeowners. The scam starts with a promise of a great deal or a rebate on your utility bill and, like the trained cons that they are, can be very convincing.
When you speak with the so-called “customer service representative,” they seem very professional. Scammers are known to mimic the hold music and option menu of big-name cable companies. The scammer explains that the company is offering a special promotion: pay several months in advance and receive a discounted rate or free perks like premium channels. In another version of the scam, the caller claims that you overpaid on a recent bill and are due for a refund.
That’s where the “deal” gets suspect. The caller asks you to buy pre-paid debit cards to make the up-front payment. But, BBB cautions against this – if you send the card numbers to the scammer, your money is gone for good.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to help you spot and avoid utility imposter scams.
• Never, ever make payments with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Scammers use these payment methods because they are easily transferred and untraceable. If you send money through these cards, there is nothing you can do to get your money back. Legitimate companies will almost always accept checks and credit cards as a primary payment method.
• Verify the identity of anyone who shows up at your door. If you weren’t expecting a visit from your cable company, ask the person for their ID and then call your cable company to verify they are an employee. Do not let them into your home while you are checking and do not use the number the person gives you to make the call. Check the cable company number yourself.
• Always verify promotions and special offers with the company. Go to the company’s website or find a copy of your latest bill to get the correct customer service number. Call the company directly to verify that the offer is real. Do not let them into your home while you are checking and do not use the number the person gives you to make the call.
AT&T, Cox Cable, Verizon and Xfinity all have customer support information about these frauds on their website. Whenever you receive a suspicious email or phone call, verify the information with the company first. Be sure to get contact information from the official web pages.
If you spot a scam, whether you’ve lost money or not, report it to the BBB Scam Tracker. Your story can help other consumers avoid similar scams.
Marjorie Stephens is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit www.bbb.org.