Picture this: Summer's here, the days are long and hot, you've got your air conditioning cranked up, and then you receive a phone call. You haven't paid your electricity bill. You owe hundreds of dollars you didn't know you owed. Your provider wants payment now, or they’ll cut off your power within the day. What do you do? Do you pay?
If you said yes — you're not alone. Many of us probably would, and unfortunately, this is precisely what scammers are hoping for. With electricity costs on the rise and reliance on the grid greater than ever before, an increasing number of schemes have recently entered the market that put unsuspecting consumers at risk of being taken advantage of, often by scam artists making false claims about their monthly energy bills and their home's access to utility services.
Sound overwhelming? It can be — but there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe.
Knowledge is power, and the first step to protecting yourself against any scam is knowing what to watch for and what to do when you come across one — and that's exactly what this blog post is all about.
Keep reading to learn more about some of the most common types of energy bill scams and how you can protect yourself in 2023.
First, let's revisit the scenario mentioned above because it's one of the most common energy bill scams circulating today — the threat of disconnection.
Usually, it goes something like this:
You'll receive a phone call from what appears to be your Transmission Distribution Service Provider (TDSP), aka the company that delivers energy to your home, telling you that you owe an outstanding sum of money on your bill. They'll typically demand you pay immediately over the phone by providing your banking or credit card information in order to avoid disconnecting your electricity.
The second common type of energy bill scam is the request for personal account details.
In this instance, rather than requesting payment from you, they may call asking to confirm sensitive data like your social insurance number, banking or credit card information and other identifying details that can grant unwanted access to your identity and finances.
The third type of common energy bill scam claims that your energy bill provider owes YOU money. This typically comes in the form of a phone call or email stating that you've overpaid on a recent bill and requesting your credit card or banking details so that they can issue a refund.
And then we have in-person energy bill scams. These come in the form of a fraudulent utility representative offering services at your door.
Sometimes these scammers will masquerade by offering a free home inspection, after which they'll sell you products designed to lower your energy bills, paid for upfront on the promise that they’ll arrive at a later date. Other times, two false representatives will conduct the inspection, with one playing the role of distractor and the other stealing valuables from your home.
These in-person energy bill scams can also happen after severe weather events when you’re experiencing outages in your neighborhood. In these instances, someone will arrive at your door offering to restore power for a fixed fee. However, after receiving payment, they will claim they cannot restore your utilities and leave.
Unfortunately, these are just a few of the energy bill scams making the rounds today. Centerpoint Energy has put together a more extensive list here, where you can learn more about some of the others you should watch out for.
In all of these instances, it's crucial to be able to identify what is happening so that you can protect yourself from falling victim. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
While it can be challenging to spot a fraudulent phone call (as many scammers can spoof your utility provider's phone number, making it appear on your screen as the caller ID), spotting an email or text message scam can sometimes be easier.
Scammers often use similar but slightly different contact details to reach out to you pretending to be your provider, so keep your eye out for irregularities like incorrect email addresses, website URLs or spelling and grammar errors that may indicate a scam.
When it comes to in-person scam attempts, keep watch for identifiers like company uniforms and request a business card or other form of employment identification that may indicate a representative's true identity.
And if in doubt? It's always best to hang up or decline access to your home. After doing so, you can contact your energy company directly using the contact details on your monthly energy bill (do not use a call-back number) to sort out your account status or book a legitimate appointment.
A second significant indicator that you may be involved in a scam is the necessity for immediate and strict payment methods. Scammers often pressure you with a sense of urgency, demanding that you make a fast payment to retain your account status. In reality, your actual utility provider will always give you proper notice of any attention needed on your account, giving you ample time to make amends.
Scammers will also often ask for uncommon payment methods like prepaid debit cards, cryptocurrency or reloadable gift cards. If someone calls you requesting any of these forms of payment, it's a sure sign to hang up immediately.
So what do you do if you think you're being scammed?
Well, first things first, you want to stop contact and ensure you don’t share any personal information with the person reaching out to you. So hang up the phone, refrain from clicking on any email or text message links, and decline access to your home if you notice any red flags that call into question the legitimacy of who you’re in contact with. Once you've done that, you can move on to reporting.
When you think you've experienced an energy bill scam, reporting is hugely important in helping prevent the incident from happening to others in the future.
You'll first want to contact your utility provider to make them aware that someone is portraying themselves as one of their representatives. By contacting them, you'll provide them with the information they need to be able to notify other customers of the potential scam.
Next, you'll also want to report the scam to the appropriate legal authorities. You can do so by filing a report with your local police department and contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the fraudulent incident through their online portal.
There's no doubt that scammers are becoming increasingly cunning at what they do, and it can be challenging to detect when something is amiss. But like we said at the start, being informed is one of the best ways to help protect yourself from being taken advantage of.
So now that you know some of the warning signs to watch for, take the time to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of your energy agreement too, and keep close track of your monthly bills so that you always know what to expect.
And while you're getting more informed about your energy use — why not sign-up for OhmConnect? OhmConnect is a free program that rewards its members for their energy awareness. (And we promise, it’s not a scam ;)
We'll notify you when electricity costs spike in your neighborhood, equipping you with the knowledge you need to know when to power down and save on your monthly bill. You'll earn points by reducing your consumption that can be redeemed for gift cards, prizes and cash right back in your wallet. That's because OhmConnect takes the energy you save and sells it back to the grid, sharing those profits with YOU! Learn more and click here to sign-up today.