With Covid-19 leaving millions of Americans unemployed and many families in financial ruin, the worries start with the basics — their utility bill. In some cases, mass unemployment has struck families multiple times. And for families who haven’t saved up, keeping the lights on starts to become a major challenge.
In fact, recent research projects that 20% of families will fall into utility bill debt as a result of Covid-19. “Over a four-month period of non-payment, average household debt to utilities would amount to almost $1,100,” the report states.
Cue the scammers, who know full well that families are undergoing a crisis. To them, it’s the perfect time to strike.
Scams are surging across the nation
Just three days ago, Northampton County, Pennsylvania police shared on their crime watch board that a scammer claiming to work for local energy company PECO stole almost $500 from a resident.
“A resident received a phone call reporting that they need to have their electric meter replaced because there was a problem. The victim was instructed to go to a specific store to purchase a $498.32 MoneyPak card and call a number back. The victim purchased the card as requested and completed what was requested [and] later learned the call was not from his electric company and that he was scammed.”Source: Lower Saucon Township Police Department
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania isn’t alone. Less than a month ago, Virgina-based Dominion Energy got word that scam calls were going around.
Bonita Harris, Dominion Energy’s media relations manager, told various reporters that scam calls “blew up” when the pandemic began. She also added that “scammers will spoof the number they’re calling from to make it seem like it’s actually Dominion calling you, then demand payment.”
Nobody is safe either — even a Dominion Energy employee received a scam call.
These payment-demanding phone calls have also recently emerged in Indiana, according to Duke Energy, an electric power holding company. Here’s how these scams typically go down:
“Typically, the customer receives an unsolicited phone call — sometimes an automated call – from an individual who falsely claims to be a Duke Energy representative demanding immediate payment, usually in the form of a prepaid debit card. Scammers have even duplicated the Duke Energy upfront Interactive Voice Response system, so when customers call back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate Duke Energy phone number. Some of these criminals also use caller-ID spoofing to replicate a utility’s customer service number.”Source: WBIW
How to defend yourself from utility bill and disconnection scams
- If someone tells you to purchase a pre-paid debit card or anything untraceable by your credit card company, don’t. Consider hanging up and reporting the call to local authorities.
- Never pay your utility bill by reading your card number, CVC, and other confidential details over the phone.
- Remember that phone numbers and caller IDs can be spoofed. Even if both the phone number and caller ID match the utility company’s, it can still be a scam.
- If you are not behind on your utility bill yet someone says you are, double-check. If your utility bill clearly states you are not behind on payments, then you aren’t. Consider hanging up and calling your utility company to check if you are truly behind on your utility bill.
Have you been the victim of a utility bill or disconnection scam during the Covid-19 pandemic? We’d like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.