SALT LAKE CITY — Utility companies nationwide are seeing a new take on an old scam.
In it, crooks pose as utility company service agents and tell victims they are behind on their payments and are in danger of being disconnected. Depending on the scammers, one of several different payment options is offered — all fraudulent, according to Jeff Hymas, Rocky Mountain Power spokesman.
Rocky Mountain Power and Questar Gas issued a joint warning last week that neither utility company operates in that manner, and if you get such a call, to beware.
“This isn’t a new scam,” Hymas said, “it’s similar to one we put a warning out to our Spanish-speaking customers on last year.
The electric utility had 180 reports of such scams last year in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, and nearly 40 already this year.
This year, scammers are not only targeting residential customers, but businesses as well.
Questar Gas hasn’t had any reports this year in Utah of the scam, according to company spokesman Darren Shepherd, but they have in the past, and are hearing of such incidents from other natural gas companies nationwide.
“They seem to come in waves and we issued this press release in conjunction with Rocky Mountain Power in anticipation of that,” Shepherd said.
Hymas said most customers contacted have recognized it as a scam, but that “unfortunately some have fallen victim to this fraud.”
The scammers use a variety of tactics to gain personal information. Sometimes, customers are asked to make a payment with their credit card over the phone. Recently customers have been asked to purchase a pre-paid card and give the caller that information.
The utility companies will not generally contact customers requesting payment be made over the phone. If Rocky Mountain Power or Questar Gas contacts a customer, the representative will always have that customer’s account number.
A joint press release from the utilities said that if a customer is contacted by phone or has concerns about the validity of a call, it is appropriate to let the caller know you prefer to call them back at the utility’s published customer service number.
“Whenever you’re suspicious always call back on the company’s published number,” Hymas said. Don’t give out any information.
Rocky Mountain Power can be reached at 1-888-221-7070. Questar Gas can be reached at 1-800-323-5517.
The utilities aren’t sure how the scammers are targeting their victims.
“We don’t know if these are random calls, or a case in which they’ve found customer information in the mail or in the trash,” Hymas said. One means of protection may be to pay through paperless billing, which provides the customer more security, Hymas said.
Utility customers who may be behind on their payments should call the company and discuss the billing. There are several options to help customers get back on track, Hymas said
Those who receive suspicious calls should pay close attention to information such as the phone number they are asked to call, the caller ID number, an address where they’re told to send money or even a vehicle license plate number and report the incident to their local police and their utility provider.