The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel Encourages Consumers to be Cautious of Utility Scams
DENVER - (Nov. 14, 2018) -- The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), which advises and advocates on behalf of consumers regarding state regulated utility costs, is helping to raise awareness about utility scams for the third annual “Utility Scam Awareness Day”.
For a brief background, in 2016 Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) was formed as a consortium of over 100 electric, water and gas utilities along with their respective trade associations in North America to encourage utilities across the nation to promote awareness to the public of the threat, techniques and tools used by criminals to scam energy customers and educate consumers on protecting themselves.
Raising this type of awareness is paramount to consumer protection as thousands of utility customers are reporting millions of dollars lost to scams annually. In Colorado, scams and imposters have been reported in communities like Pueblo and Montrose this past spring and utilities have joined in a conscious effort to raise awareness.
The UUAS released the “Consumer’s Guide to Imposter Utility Scams” which provides useful information about types of utility scams (phone, in-person, and internet), tips to avoid scams, and a list of resources in case you fall victim of a utility scam.
The guide can be found at: http://www.utilitiesunited.org/Documents/Guide_UUAS_Guide_Utility_Scams.pdf
A few highlights include:
Signs of Potential Scam Activity
- Disconnection Deception:
Scammers may call, email or contact you in person stating that your utility bill is overdue and threaten to disconnect service unless immediate payment is made. Typically scammers will request payment via prepaid cards purchased at a local retail store or credit card, debit card, bank draft, wiring money, etc.
- Overpayment Trick:
Scammers call claiming you have overpaid your utility bill, and you need to provide personal bank account information or a credit card number to facilitate a refund. In reality, your utility will either apply any overpayments as a credit to your account or mail you a check.
- False Leaks:
Scammers posing as utility workers may knock on your door claiming that there is a major gas or water leak in the area and that they need to come inside to check pipes or lines. These scammers may try to collect personal information or steal valuables by distracting you. A utility will typically call you in advance and set up an appointment.
Protecting Yourself from Scams:
- Take your time and always ask questions!
Do not be rushed. Scammers use tactics like impatience, annoyance or anger. Be diligent, have the person contacting you confirm all your account information and ensure the utility representative is legitimate. If not, hang up or shut the door, and report the incident to your utility immediately or the local authorities.
- Stay updated on scams
Keep yourself informed and educated on local news reports and websites, local law enforcement websites, state attorneys general websites, federal government websites and research incoming phone numbers you do not recognize. Scammers are constantly updating their tactics so it’s important to stay educated on new types of scams and tips to avoid them.
- Scams come in many forms
Scams can happen through email or the internet, in person and on the phone. Always be on the defense and when in doubt, delete a suspicious email, hang up on the persistent imposter, or shut the door on that phony employee.
Customers, who suspect that they have been victims of fraud, or who feel threatened during contact, should contact local law enforcement authorities immediately. The Federal Trade Commission is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Section/Stop Fraud Colorado also provides consumer protection for victims of fraud.
Visit http://www.utilitiesunited.org for more information and tips about how customers can protect themselves from utility scams or follow along on social media: Twitter @U_U_A_S and Facebook @UtilitiesUnited.
It's also Colorado Consumer Protection Month. You can follow "Utility Scams Awareness Day" and Colorado Consumer Protection Month on social media using hashtags: #StopScams #UtilityScamAwareness, #GetWiseCO and #CCPM2018.
Follow the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel, a division of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), on Twitter and Facebook: @DORAColorado.
About the Office of Consumer Counsel
The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), a division within the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), represents residential, small business, and agricultural utility consumers as a class in electric and natural gas proceedings before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The OCC does not regulate; it advises and advocates on behalf of consumers. The OCC helps consumers by lowering or eliminating proposed utility rate increases and by ensuring that utility rates, regulations and policies are more equitable for residential, small business, and agricultural consumers.