Scam Alert: Watch Out for Fake Utility Employee Phone Scammers
Public Policy Fellow
Consumers Union’s End Robocalls team is fighting hard to stop robocalls because all too often, scammers use them to trick consumers out of their hard-earned money. Many of you are familiar with the IRS phone scam, the jury duty phone scam, and the tech support scam.
Now, we’re hearing from the FCC that there’s a new phone scam to watch out for–the utilities call scam.
As we head into winter, fake utility company scammers have been calling consumers and threatening to cut off their heat unless they immediately pay a fictional bill. These scammers tell victimized consumers to pay right away over the phone with a credit, debit, or gift card.
The scammers will do anything they can to trick you into believing that it’s actually the gas and electric company on the other end of the line. Some of them may “spoof” their Caller ID, so an inaccurate and misleading number shows up on your Caller ID. They may also use interactive voice technology that sounds very similar to technology that your utility company may already use..
Remember–your utilities company will never ask you to pay with a gift card. If you receive a call that seems suspicious in any way–just hang up!
There are other steps you can take to protect yourself from phone scams. Here are some suggestions from the FCC:
- Don’t pick up calls from unfamiliar numbers.
- If you’re concerned that you owe money: hang up the phone, get the utility company’s phone number from your phone bill (not your Caller ID on your phone screen), and give them a call to inquire.
- If you receive a scam call, notify the FTC, the FCC, and the police.
- To protect yourself from unwanted calls, consider buying a call-blocker or enrolling in a call-blocking service. Check out Consumer Reports’ review for home phones. For a list of smartphone apps, click here.
- And, for more information, check out the FCC’s new resource on robocalls.
Consumers are besieged with unwanted robocalls and scam calls nearly every day. The call-blocking service YouMail reports that last month alone more than two billion robocalls were sent in the US! Consumers Union doesn’t think it’s fair that consumers have to bear the burden of dealing with unwanted robocalls. The phone companies are in the best position to stop robocalls by offering free technology that automatically identifies and intercepts unwanted calls.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pushed the phone companies to create a “Robocall Strike Force” to develop solutions to stop these calls. But so far, we’ve seen more talk than action from the phone companies. You can help!! Send a message to the top phone companies – AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink – to tell them to take action on robocalls today!