Utility companies urge customers to be wary of scammers
AVANGRID Inc. (NYSE: AGR) and its Connecticut subsidiaries, United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas and Connecticut Natural Gas, are urging customers to be wary of scammers posing as utility company representatives.
In recent weeks, the companies have received reports of scammers threatening to cut service unless the customer makes an immediate “payment” over the phone using a prepaid debit card. While most customers recognize these calls as scams, a small number have been persuaded to make payments.
It’s an old swindle with some new twists. Caller ID may show the call is coming from the utility. In some cases, the perpetrators provide callback numbers that answer with the same recorded greeting as the utility’s customer service line.
In a typical scenario, the caller informs the customer a crew is on the way to shut off service unless an immediate payment is made. The perpetrators may tell the customer they had not received a recent payment or they had incorrectly processed a payment, so the customer must pay again.
The scammer may demand the victim purchase a prepaid debit card (“Green Dot” is a common brand) to make the payment. The perpetrator often will stay on the line or provide a callback number to complete the transaction.
In a variation, the caller will attempt to collect a fee for replacing the property’s electric meter or another piece of equipment, also using a bogus payment scheme.
The scams can be challenging to investigate due to the reliance on prepaid debit cards and phone services. Perpetrators often target commercial establishments that can’t afford even a brief loss of power, such as restaurants shortly before their evening rush, or individuals whom they believe are less likely to report crimes, such as immigrants and non-native English speakers.
Customers should verify all information before making payments over the phone, and should learn to recognize the red flags:
- It doesn’t add up. Our utilities don’t call customers for payment if the account is in good standing. If a customer is behind on payments, the utilities will first mail a warning notice providing the steps to continue service.
- Bullying: When someone calls and says a crew is on the way to shut off service unless there’s an immediate payment, it should set off alarm bells. The greater the pressure and harassment, the more skeptical customers should be. UI does not perform customer shut-offs on Fridays, weekends or at times when customer service lines are not staffed.
- Demanding a specific form of payment: Our representatives accept a variety of forms of payment, including credit cards, debit cards, bank transfers and more. If a caller insists on payment via a prepaid debit card — especially a specific brand of prepaid card — it is a scam.
- Here are steps customers can take to protect themselves:
- Check the account status. Customers can check their balance on the utility’s website if they have a My Account profile. Or, they can hang up and call back on the company’s main line, using the number provided on the monthly bill or utility website (UI: 800-722-5584; SCG: 800-659-8299; CNG-Hartford area: 860-727-3000; CNG-Greenwich: 888-264-2677). Representatives can verify any issues with accounts and work with customers to help resolve them.
- Protect personal information. Customers should never share personal or financial information, including outstanding balances, without first verifying whom they’re speaking with.
- Collect evidence. Customers who suspect a scam are urged to get the name and number from caller ID, if available, write down any call-back number provided, and take notes on what the caller said. This will help investigators work with authorities to shut down the scam.
- Report it. Customers should report the scam to the utility; if a payment was made, call police as well. This will help authorities shut down scams and prosecute the scammers.
- Sign up for My Account online. Customers can find their outstanding balance, make payments and schedule automatic payments — so that an outstanding balance is never a concern.
Visit UI’s website at uinet.com ; SCG’s at soconngas.com and CNG’s at cngcorp.com to sign up.