I received a electric utility scam call the other day in which a recording threatened to cut off my service. Here’s why it failed.
Every time you turn around these days, someone’s out to get your money. Someone made an attempt on me the other day in an electric utility scam. There are a couple of reasons I immediately recognized that something didn’t add up.
I’ve worked in the news business long enough to have heard of plenty of scams. I’ve written enough stories about them to recognize many of the tricks.
But sometimes, you encounter one without having read up on that specific scam before. That’s when you have to rely on common sense to save your money!
Here’s why I smelled a rat…and how you can, too, if you get this kind of call.
First, I know what my electric bill is every month.
I use my utility’s iPhone app, so I don’t wait for my energy bill to arrive by mail each month. In fact, I can go in any day of they year and know down to the penny what my current charges are. We’ve had some winter weather here lately from a cold front that moved through, so I saw the immediate effects of running the heat in my home because of that. (I try to avoid running the heat unless it gets really cold. This week definitely qualified.)
When it comes to utility costs that can vary drastically, I think consumers have to pay extra attention to their bill.
At my old place, my electric bill could run as low as about $60 in winter but as high as $250 during the hottest part of the summer. I conclude from that this place wasn’t the best insulated. My new place has power bills that range from about $50 to $110. Yes, the highest bill I paid last summer was around $110.
When you can plan on a bill that only ranges $60 each month, that’s much easier on the budget than one that can range $190 depending on the month. You can plan your bill payment much easier with a stable bill.
Whenever I use the app, I see exactly when my payment is posted. I can even check in during the month and see how much power I’m using and adjust if that bill is rising faster than I’d like.
Since I do check the app at least once a week, I know exactly what my balance is. I know also that there was no past-due balance.
Second, they failed to ask an important question at the start of the call.
When I answered the phone, the recording immediately began. You should always see that as a red flag, friends.
The recording explained that after “multiple attempts” to reach me — this was the first — the utility would disconnect my electric service. To their credit, they named the right electric utility. But in my area, there’s really only one major player, so I couldn’t give that much credence.
But it wasn’t the claim of multiple attempts to reach me that made me suspicious.
No one asked to speak to me by name.
The recording — or the caller — had no idea who was on the other end of the call. For all the caller knew, they could have reached a wrong number. I could have moved out of the service area. I could have changed phone numbers.
The fact that they didn’t verify my identity before launching into the claim about my account being past due invalidated that claim.
But then that’s the whole point of this electric utility scam. The faster they can threaten their would-be victim with a service disconnection, the faster they can catch that target off-guard. They don’t want to give anyone time to recognize what should be obvious.
They want to scare you into giving them your money before you have time to think about what you’re doing.
Third, they asked for details far too late.
Once the recording delivered its message, it gave the option to speak to a customer service representative with my specific power company. I had to press 1 to reach that person, which was ridiculous in itself. Shouldn’t it just connect me directly?
I pressed 1.
The supposed agent answered naming the energy company and asked how he could assist.
I told him what I suspected he already knew: I reached him by way of an automated message.
He said he needed to look up my information. So he asked me for my name and account number.
“You should know who I am. You called me,” I answered.
He claimed that information didn’t transfer through and, therefore, he needed to “verify” my identity.
There you go. The third red flag.
I told him right out that I suspected he was a scammer and would call my energy company and then I’d be reporting the call.
For the record, I did call my energy company directly. They confirmed what I already saw on the app: I had no past-due balance.
They also confirmed that they would never call one of their customers and then ask for that information.
If a customer has a past-due account, they said, they would call with an automated message asking that the customer call them. But they don’t call and then ask for personal data.
That’s common sense.
Common sense if your main defense against telephone scams!