FCC warns of utility call scam

Monday, November 28, 2016


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has alerted consumers to be on the lookout for callers pretending to be utility company employees demanding immediate payment, often by prepaid debit cards, credit cards or gift cards. As American consumers prepare for winter months when many people would be endangered by an interruption to heating fuel, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau made consumers aware of this scam.

Tip: If you get a call warning you of a balance you don't believe you owe to your utility, hang up, independently look up the utility company’s phone number on a recent statement or legitimate website and call that number to verify the call. (Do not reply to emails mentioning a balance you don't think you owe, either!)

The caller typically poses as a representative of the consumer’s actual local utility, stating that immediate payment will ensure that the consumer’s heating service will not be disconnected. The scammers are known to spoof utility company telephone numbers so the caller ID makes it appear to be a call from the utility company. These scammers often use automated interactive voice response calling systems that mimic legitimate providers’ calls. After victims, many of whom have been older adults, follow instructions via interactive prompts, they are connected to a live “customer service representative” who asks for the access code for a credit, debit, or gift card. This information allows the scammer to cash out the card or sell it to a third party.

Anyone who believes they have been targeted by this scam should immediately report the incident to their utility company, local police, the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant, and to the FCC’s Consumer Help Center.

The FCC warns consumers to always be on alert for this and other scams. Use these tips to help ward off unwanted calls and scams:

  • Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
  • If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the company’s phone number independently on your recent bill or its legitimate website, and contact it through an official number, web form or email address (that you look up) to see if they called you. By initiating the communication yourself, you can verify that the request for payment is legitimate
  • If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify—and then target—people.
  • If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC and other appropriate authorities so it can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
  • Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service that allows subscribers to block unwanted calls. If not, encourage your provider to start offering a blocking service. You can also visit the FCC’s Web Resources for Blocking Robocalls for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help you reduce unwanted calls. 
  • Finally, know that legitimate utility companies will not demand payment via gift cards.

As the agency that implements and enforces the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the FCC reviews all consumer complaints and issues consumer alerts based on complaints and other public information related to possible scams and frauds. This is part of a new series of consumer alerts from the FCC designed to inform and empower consumers.




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