Table of Contents
- Money Crashers
- 1. Door-to-Door Sales Scams
- 2. Power Shutoff Scams
- 3. Power Restoration Scams
- 4. Replacement & Repair Scams
- 5. Fake Federal Programs
- 6. Utility Company Imposters
- Final Word
- Utility Bill Review
- Comprehensive reviews to help you save a fortune.
- Deregulation and the rise of door-to-door energy sales
- What can go wrong with door-to-door energy sales?
- Who can I trust?
- Seven tips to avoid energy scams
- Over the Phone
- By Email
- Through Unsecure Forms of Payment
- Protect yourself from door-to-door energy scams
- What is an energy scam?
- How to protect yourself from energy scams
- The ol’ ESCO switcheroo
- Lights out!
- Missed connections
- Scams, scams everywhere
- Be cautious of electricity service scammers
Here are the top 10 states who were affected by the utility scam in 2017 and what schemes each scammer used to lure victims in:
- 508 – Massachusetts (south-central and southeast)
Scammers call victims threatening that they will disconnect their electric or gas service if they do not make an immediate payment. They will also offer bill or credit discount rates if a customer provides them with their account number or any other personal information.
- 201 – Hudson, NJ
Public Service Enterprise Group (PSE&G)
Victim will receive a call from a bill collector notifying them that their PSE&G bill is past due and that their power will be shut off until a portion of the bill is not paid for immediately. Victim is told to purchase MoneyPak cash cards and must read the serial numbers back to the “representative,” giving the scammer access to the cards funds.
Rochester Gas and Electric Corp (RG&E) and New York state Electric Gas Corp (NYSEG)
Scammers contact customers and disguise themselves as utility representatives who are calling regarding so-called billing issues. They attempt to convince the customer to purchase a “Green Dot MoneyPak Card” and if they do not purchase the card, the “representative” threatens to shut off their utilities.
- 914 – Westchester County
Scammer will spoof their numbers. showing up as Con Edison on a customer’s caller ID. They will then claim to be a representative from Con Edison and notify customers that their service will be shut off due to the unpaid bill. The customer is told that the only way they can prevent this from happening is to purchase pre-paid cards or to arrange a money transfer via MoneyGram to pay the bill.
- 323 – Los Angeles, CA
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)
Scammers are stealing PG&E customers’ identities by calling and posing as representatives of the company. Customers have been notified through phone calls and emails of overdue bills that appear to be sent form PG&E and need to be paid for immediately.
Southern California Edison (SCE)
Spoofing caller IDs and claiming to be Southern California Edison, scammers are threatening and demanding customers give their credit card numbers, buy prepaid cards, or wire money directly to them or else they will turn off their electricity within an hour.
- 330 – Akron, OH
First Energy Corp/American Electric Power/Duke Energy
Scammers notify customers of overdue bills and threaten customers that they will shut off gas or electric services if they do not pay immediately. The growing number of calls is rising as temperatures begin to fall as scammers feed off of people’s fear of losing heat in the cold winter weather.
- 510 – Oakland, CA
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)
Scammers are stealing PG&E customers’ identities by calling and posing as representatives of the company. Customers have been notified through phone calls and emails of overdue bills that appear to be sent form PG&E and need to be paid for immediately.
- 916 – Sacramento, CA
Southern California Edison (SCE)
Scammers pose as SCE representatives and contact SCE customers notifying them that they need to make immediate payments on past due bills. If they do not pay by prepaid cash cards or debit cards they will disconnect their electric service immediately.
- 717 – Harrisburg, PA
PPL Electric Utilities
Posing as callers from PPL Electric Utilties call center, customers are being notified that their accounts have had a number of past due bills and they need to make an immediate payment or else their electricity will be shut off. Customers are told to pay with prepaid debit cards and are told to call a phony call center where they are to enter their account information.
- 857 – Boston, MA
Using spoofing technology, scammers claim to be from Duke Power and pretend they are calling customers about that account being past overdue and if they do not pay immediately their services will be shut down immediately.
- 440 – Cleveland, OH
Illuminating Co, FirstEnergy, Dominion East Ohio, Cleveland Public Power, and Cleveland Water
Scammers notify customers of overdue bills and threaten customers that they will shut off gas or electric services if do not pay immediately. The growing number of calls is rising as temperatures begin to fall, scammers feed off of people’s fear of losing heat in the cold winter weather.
En español | The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder and you could swear you paid that last gas and electric bill. But the caller from the power company is adamant that you’re overdue and says if you don’t pay up now, the juice goes out. That’s the last thing you want in the chilly dead of winter (or the long, hot summer, as the case may be). Best not to risk it.
That’s what fraudsters want you to think, and enough people do to make utilities a common subject of impostor scams, by far the most common type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Impersonators call homes and small businesses demanding payment for supposedly delinquent bills and threatening to terminate service. They time attacks for maximum urgency, stepping up activity during peak heating or air conditioning season, and targeting businesses at busy times (like the lunch or dinner rush at a restaurant).
A fake utility worker might also seek payment up front to replace or repair a meter or other device, or solicit personal information in the name of signing you up for a government program that reduces energy bills. There are several other varieties of utility con:
- Rather than claiming you owe money, scam callers might say you’ve overpaid and ask for bank account or credit card information to make a “refund.”
- Scammers pretending to be utility workers show up at your home to inspect or repair equipment, investigate a supposed gas leak or do a free “audit” for energy efficiency. They may try to charge you for the phony service, sell you unnecessary products, collect personal information for use in identity theft or simply gain entry to steal valuables.
- Utility impostors send out phishing emails or “smishing” text messages to trick you into making a payment or supplying personal or financial data.
- Identity thieves use stolen personal information to open utility accounts and run up charges in the victim’s name. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 22,000 reports of utility-related identity theft in 2018.
Utility scammers particularly target older Americans and people who are not native English speakers, according to CenterPoint Energy, a Houston-based utility that provides direct gas or electricity service in six states. But anyone who pays a utility bill can be a mark — and anyone can avoid being victimized by taking a few precautions.
- An unscheduled or unsolicited call or visit from someone claiming to represent your power or water company.
- Threats to cut off service unless an overdue bill or maintenance cost is paid immediately.
- A demand for payment by wire transfer, cryptocurrency, gift card or cash-reload card — scammers’ favored methods.
- You see payments on credit card or bank statements for utility accounts you did not open.
A few years ago, a couple of young people came to my door dressed in a uniform I couldn’t identify. They said they were from “the power company” and they were there because they’d been “getting calls from all neighbors about why their bills are so high.” They then asked to look at my utility bill so they could see if it had a particular code at the top. If it did, that would mean I was being “double-charged” on every single bill.
It sounded pretty serious. It sounded like something that any customer who cared about lowering their utility bills would want to fix right away – which is probably exactly what those folks at the door were counting on. But instead of running to fetch my latest bill, I slammed the door in their faces.
Why would I do that? Because I happened to know their story wasn’t true. It was just a scam to trick me into switching power providers.
It’s just one of several scams related to your home utilities – particularly, your electric service. Some of them involve people coming to your door, as they did at my house; others are usually carried out by phone or email. Sometimes, they woo you with the promise of lower bills or better equipment, and sometimes they threaten you with having your service cut off. But in every case, what the scammers really want is to line their own pockets at your expense.
Here are six common utility company scams to watch out for.
1. Door-to-Door Sales Scams
Back in the 1990s, Congress gave the states the option to deregulate their energy markets. If a state chose to deregulate, consumers in that state would no longer have to buy their electricity from their local utility company. Instead, several companies would compete to supply electricity to them.
So far, 17 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to deregulate. In these states, consumers who choose to switch have two different power companies: a power provider that produces the electricity they buy and a power utility that maintains the grid. There are also 27 states where natural gas users can choose their gas provider.
The goal of deregulation was to create more competition for consumers, helping them lower their bills. Unfortunately, in the process, it also gave rise to a new type of scam: fake energy sales.
How the Scam Works
In states with deregulated energy markets, power providers sometimes market their products door-to-door. Salespeople come to people’s houses, let them know they have the right to choose a power provider, and ask if they’re interested in switching. In some cases, agreeing to this can be a good idea. It can allow you to buy electricity for a lower price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) than your utility charges, or to buy renewable energy for your home without the trouble of installing solar panels.
However, sometimes the people who knock on your door don’t just tell you about their products and offer you a chance to switch. Instead, they try to trick you into switching using a variety of sneaky tactics:
- Teaser Rates. The salesperson tells you that you can qualify for a special, discounted rate, but only if you sign up on the spot. That encourages you to sign quickly without bothering to read the fine print. If you do, you’ll learn that this special low rate is only a “teaser” introductory rate that lasts for the first few months. After that, you keep buying your power from the same supplier, but at their regular, much higher rate.
- Saying It’s Required. If you live in an apartment complex, a salesperson may tell you that everyone in the complex routinely selects a new power provider every year or every season. In reality, you can switch providers any time you want, and it’s never required.
- Slamming. The most blatantly illegal practice these scammers use is called slamming, or switching you to a new power provider without your consent. Someone comes to the door posing as a representative from your local utility and asks to see your latest bill. Sometimes, they tell you there’s a problem with your account; sometimes, they say they want to see if you’re getting the best rate or paying an unnecessary charge, like the scammers who came to my door did. Actually, they want to see your bill so that they can copy your utility account number. Once they have this information, they can switch you over to another provider. Unless you look closely at your bill, you won’t even realize they’ve done it.
How to Tell It’s a Scam
You could protect yourself from this scam by refusing to open the door to anyone you don’t recognize or anyone in a power company uniform. However, some door-to-door energy salespeople are legit, and they might even be able to offer you a good deal. Here are a few ways to tell the real salespeople from the scammers:
- They Won’t Identify Themselves. They say they’re from “the power company” or “your local power company,” but they don’t give an actual company name. Or they claim to be from your local utility, but they can’t produce any ID to prove it.
- They Ask to See Your Bill. Anyone who’s really from your local utility should already know what’s on your bill. After all, they’re the ones who sent it. If they wanted to see a copy, they could just pull it up on their computer rather than come to your door and ask for it.
- They Use High-Pressure Tactics. They admit they’re salespeople, but they then try to get you to switch providers without reading the contract. They tell you they’re in a hurry and need your signature right now, or they suggest that you don’t have a choice about switching.
What to Do
Here’s how to protect yourself from this type of scam:
- Always Ask for ID. Don’t assume that a clipboard with a company logo, or even a company uniform, means that the person you’re talking to works for your local utility. Ask for real identification, such as a badge or card with a photo on it. If they’re really from the public utility, they’ll have ID.
- Never Show Your Bill. Don’t show your bill to anyone, even if you believe they really are from the utility. And don’t provide any other personal information, such as your Social Security Number (SSN) or bank account info.
- Always Read the Contract. If you decide to switch power providers, read the entire contract – fine print and all – before signing it. Look for details on the cost per kWh, how long that rate lasts, what happens when the introductory rate ends, and whether there are any sign-up or cancellation fees. If the salespeople pressure you to sign before you’re ready, don’t hesitate to shut the door in their faces.
- Do Your Own Research. If you’re interested in switching power providers, don’t wait for someone to show up on your doorstep with an offer. Instead, do some research on your own to compare different providers in your area. That way, you can look at multiple providers and see which one offers the best rates. To get started, visit the website of your state board of public utilities or search for the term “energy choice” plus the name of your state.
2. Power Shutoff Scams
Power shutoff scams are a type of phishing scam in which hackers pose as representatives of a company you do business with to get money from you. In this case, they pretend to be from the electric company, and their strategy for getting money out of you is threatening to shut off your power.
This scam can take several forms. Sometimes, you get an email that looks like it’s from the utility, claiming that the company is going to shut off your power because you haven’t paid your electric bill. In other cases, you get a phone call with the same information, or a person just shows up at your door.
However, the next part of the scam is always the same: The scammers say you must pay your bill immediately to avoid having your power shut off. Sometimes, they request your bank or credit card information. Other times, they ask for payment in a form that’s harder to trace, such as a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or even cryptocurrency. Scammers who come to your door may even ask you to pay in cash on the spot.
In 2016, an ABC news team in West Palm Beach, Florida caught one of these door-to-door scammers on camera. He was pestering a homeowner about her “unpaid bill,” refusing to show ID, and repeatedly changing his story in response to her questions. When the criminal realized reporters were following him, he physically assaulted one of them before running away.
Of course, real power companies do sometimes contact you if your bill is late, and they can cut off your power if you fall too far behind. However, there are several ways to tell a legitimate request from a scam.
- They Come to Your Door. If someone shows up at your door to demand money, that should tip you off right away that it’s a scam. Your real utility company will not send someone to your home without alerting you beforehand. If your payment is late, they’ll usually notify you in writing.
- They Demand Immediate Payment. Some companies may call you to let you know your bill is past due, but they’ll never insist that you pay immediately over the phone. Instead, they’ll tell you how to pay your bill through the company website or some other standard channel.
- They Request an Untraceable Payment. Another red flag is asking for payment by wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Most utilities don’t even accept these forms of payment, and no utility will ever insist on them. So far, only one U.S. power company, GridPlus, accepts payment in cryptocurrency, and that’s only in certain parts of Texas.
- They’re Angry or Threatening. Real representatives from your power company should be calm and professional, even if they’re calling you about an unpaid bill. If the email or the person on the phone takes a hostile or threatening tone, it’s probably a scammer.
- You Know You Paid Your Bill. If you know you already paid your bill, you should be suspicious of anyone telling you it’s past due. Yes, it could be a mistake on the utility’s part, but it could also be a scam.
- You’ve Received No Prior Notices. Even if the power company somehow never got your payment, they can’t simply cut off your electricity without warning. They have to send you a series of notices first, telling you about the overdue bill and giving you a date to pay it before they shut off your power. If this is the first time you’ve heard about your payment being late, it’s probably a scam.
If you actually are behind on your electric bill, you want to make sure you pay it before your power gets cut off. If you get an email, phone call, or visitor threatening to cut off your electricity, here’s what to do:
- Don’t Trust Your Caller ID. Even if the call appears to come from the real electric company, that’s no proof that it’s legit. These days, call spoofing software makes it very easy for spammers to make a call appear to come from any number they want.
- Don’t Give Them Anything. Even if you think a call or email might be legitimate, don’t hand out any payment information or any other personal information. That’s especially important if you’re asked for an untraceable form of payment such as cryptocurrency, wire transfer, or prepaid debit. Once you’ve made a payment in this way, it’s almost impossible to get the money back.
- Check Your Real Account. If you’re concerned that you may really be behind on your electric bill, contact the utility to check. You can log in to your account on the company’s website or call its toll-free number to check your account status. However, make sure you’re using the company’s real website or phone number as shown on your bill. If you click a link in an email, it’s likely to take you to a spoofed website that may look like the utility’s real site. Likewise, phone scammers sometimes tell you to call them back at a fake phone number that uses an exact replica of the real energy company’s recorded welcome message.
3. Power Restoration Scams
A power restoration scam is the reverse of a power shutoff scam. Instead of threatening to shut off your electricity, the scammers offer to help you get it back – for a fee.
This scam shows up in neighborhoods that have lost power due to a storm or other natural disaster. Scammers dressed as electric company workers go from door to door, offering to restore your power for a one-time payment. Scammers may also contact you by phone if you have an old-fashioned landline that works without power.
Sometimes, the scammers tell you that you must pay a fee to get your electric service back. Other times, they say you’ll get your power back eventually, but you can pay a fee for an “express service restoration” to get it back faster.
In reality, these people don’t work for the power company. They can’t and won’t get your electricity back. All they will do is take your money and run.
This is an easy one. Any time anyone offers to restore your power for a fee, it’s a scam, period. Only the real utility company can restore your electric service, and they have to do it for free. Paying a fee won’t get it done any faster.
That’s easy too: Just shut the door or hang up on the caller. Don’t even bother to ask questions. It’s definitely a scam, so don’t waste a minute of your time on it.
4. Replacement & Repair Scams
Occasionally, your real electric utility needs to make repairs or replacements to equipment in your house, such as your electric meter. Scammers take advantage of this fact by posing as utility workers and trying to charge you a fee for new equipment.
This scam usually occurs by phone. Someone claiming to be from the power company calls you and says they need to make some changes to the equipment in your home. They may claim they need to make repairs, replace your electric meter, or upgrade you to a new smart meter.
The callers then demand upfront payment for this “necessary” service. If you refuse to pay, they may threaten to cut off your electricity.
Some versions of this scam go to great lengths to make the call look legitimate. They may call you from a spoofed number, set up an appointment for the installation, and give you a fake call-back number.
However, there are a few ways to tell that the call is a fraud. Your real power company usually won’t replace your meter unless you report that it’s damaged. If they do need to replace or upgrade it, they’ll contact you ahead of time to let you know. And finally, if there’s any charge for the new equipment, they’ll simply add it to your electric bill rather than asking for a separate payment.
Treat this like any other scam. Don’t pay a fee or give out any personal information over the phone. If you think the message might be legitimate, contact your utility to check. Make sure to call its official number or visit its website, rather than using a call-back number provided to you over the phone.
5. Fake Federal Programs
This is a particularly nasty scam that preys on people who are struggling to get by on a tight budget. The scammers offer them help with their utility bills, but instead, they either steal their money or seize their personal information for purposes of identity theft.
Scammers contact you to tell you about a “special federal program” that can help cover the cost of your energy bills. They may reach out to you in several different ways, including phone calls, emails, text messages, social media, and door-to-door visits. They also post fliers in low-income neighborhoods where they think people are likely to need help.
Once they have you on the hook, they start trying to get information out of you. They tell you that to sign up for the program, you’ll have to provide some personal information, such as your name, address, and SSN.
Once they have that info, they move on to the final step: getting their hands directly on your money. They tell you that in future, when you get your electric bill, you should direct your payment into a new account instead of sending it to the utility. They provide you with a phony bank routing number to use for your payments, then sit back and collect all the money you pay into that account. Meanwhile, your bills are going unpaid, and you probably won’t realize it until you start getting overdue notices from your utility.
In reality, there is no federal program to help users pay utility bills – at least, not exactly. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, receives federal funding, but it’s run at the state level. Some states also have their own separate funds to help with energy bills, such as California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and New Jersey’s Universal Service Fund (USF). In addition, some utility companies offer payment assistance programs to help customers who have trouble paying their bills.
However, none of these programs advertise their services by calling or emailing people randomly or knocking on doors. Most of them have enough trouble meeting the needs of the people who are already signed up; they certainly don’t have to go looking for more customers. Any energy assistance plan that’s actively seeking out customers is most likely a scam.
If you get a message about an energy assistance program, don’t sign up for it or give out any of your personal information. Instead, visit Benefits.gov to search for real energy assistance programs in your state. You can also check out your utility company’s website to see if it offers any programs to help you with your bills.
6. Utility Company Imposters
Most utility company scams work by tricking you into handing over your cash or your personal information. However, some criminals take a more direct approach: They pose as utility company workers to get into your home, then steal your stuff.
Criminals show up at your door, often wearing a uniform with your energy utility’s logo on it. They use a variety of tricks to get you to let them into your house, such as saying they need to inspect your fuse box or electric meter. Once they’re inside, they find some way to keep you busy while they search for things to steal.
For example, the New York Post reports on a 2014 case in which two fake Con Edison workers got into a senior citizen’s home by telling him they needed to check the fuse box. They then plugged in a light and told him to wait in the basement and watch to see if it changed color. Meanwhile, they ran upstairs, searched the house, and made off with $70,000 in cash hidden in a dresser drawer. In another case reported by WXYZ Detroit, a phony utility worker pushed his way into a home and held the homeowner at gunpoint.
Often, these criminals work in pairs so that one of them can keep you distracted while the other looks for valuables. For instance, they may ask to see your bill, then talk to you about ways to lower it. In a version of the scam described by FirstEnergy Corp. of Ohio, two criminals posed as tree trimmers working for the utility. One of them walked the property with the homeowner examining the trees, while the other looted the home.
As noted above, utility companies rarely send someone to your door without contacting you ahead of time. They don’t want to waste their employees’ time by sending them to a home that might be empty. If they need to examine or repair anything inside your home, they will make an appointment first and send out a worker with identification. Anyone who shows up unannounced and refuses to show a photo ID is probably a fake, even if the uniform they’re wearing looks real.
If someone shows up without warning claiming to be from your utility company, here’s what to do:
- Ask for ID. A real utility company worker will have an official form of ID that includes a photo. Ask to see it. If the worker won’t show it, or if they produce an ID that looks unconvincing, make them wait outside while you call the utility to confirm that the worker is legit.
- Don’t Let Them In. Unless you can confirm that the person you’re talking to is a real utility worker, don’t let them into your house. Also, don’t leave the house unattended to go outside with them. If you feel at all unsafe, shut the door and lock it.
- Don’t Show Your Bill. If the so-called utility workers ask to see your bill or for any other personal information, don’t give it to them. Your real utility company already has all the personal information about you that it needs.
If you’ve fallen victim to any of these utility scams, report the crime to the police. Don’t be embarrassed about admitting that you fell for a con; you’ve got plenty of company. When ABC News sent a reporter to people’s houses disguised as a utility worker, six out of seven homeowners let him in without asking for ID.
If you’ve managed to avoid a scam, good for you; you’re smarter than the average homeowner. However, you can still help others out by reporting the criminals to the local police and your energy provider. The more they know about these scams, the better their chances are of catching the criminals before they can victimize more of your neighbors.
You can also report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using its Complaint Assistant tool. The FTC can’t deal with your complaint personally, but it may be able to use the information you provide as part of an investigation. Your information can also help the FTC warn the public about these crimes through its Scam Alerts page.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed a utility company scam? What happened?
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Hear the doorbell? You peek out and see a well-dressed young man with a badge who identifies himself as a representative of your energy company. Is he friend or foe? A mistake can cost you thousands of dollars before you know it, and then there’s the time and hassle of straightening everything out once you do.
How serious is the problem of door-to-door energy scamming? It’s hard to quantify. Some people never realize they’ve been scammed. Some are too embarrassed to report it. But evidence of a national problem does exist.
In 2015, a New York State Public Service Commission investigation resulted in 1,566 consumers receiving $950,700 in refunds from one of the largest energy suppliers in the state. Complaints ranged from predatory sales practices to higher-than-expected prices – though it’s not possible to pinpoint how many of the complaints stemmed from door-to-door sales.
AARP specifically warns its members against energy scams. And the fact that energy trade associations designate the third Wednesday of November as Utilities United Against Scams Day provides further documentation that there’s a real problem.
Most recently, AEP Texas took to the press to warn customers of scammers in the San Angelo area going door-to-door and threatening to shut off power without immediate payments.
Deregulation and the rise of door-to-door energy sales
The deregulation of energy in 16 states and the District of Columbia spawned the scenario by which energy suppliers send salespeople door-to-door. But that’s getting ahead of things.
What is deregulation? Congress opened the door for energy deregulation in 1992, but every state hasn’t adopted it. In regulated areas, consumers buy power from a single company service their area, in most cases a utility. In deregulated areas, consumers can buy electricity and natural gas from providers they choose. The energy is delivered by a transmission company, usually the area’s original utility, but energy suppliers compete for customers by offering competitive terms, green energy or efficiency incentives.
But many people in deregulated states – including New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut and more – still don’t realize they have choice, so some providers use door-to-door sales as a way to make consumers aware of deregulation (and pick up customers in the process).
Bryan Lee, a spokesman for the Retail Energy Supply Association, a nonprofit that works on behalf of suppliers, explains it further.
“Retail energy shopping is new for many customers,” he said. “Direct customer engagement through well-trained door-to-door sales personnel can be an effective way to educate customers about energy shopping.”
But that’s not the only reason. “Many retail energy suppliers utilize door-to-door marketing in large part because of arcane utility rules requiring a customer to provide a utility account number to change energy providers. This helps promote door-to-door marketing since that customer number is most easily accessed in the home.”
He proposes a change.
“Rules that would allow a switch with working knowledge of the account, like billing address, service address and a positive identification linking a person to the account, should be enough to provide adequate proof of responsibility for an account,” Lee said. “This would enable other marketing channels and allow retail suppliers to be less dependent upon door-to-door interactions.”
What can go wrong with door-to-door energy sales?
Consider what’s in it for the salespeople. Current ads for door-to-door energy sales agents on Indeed.com list commission-based salary ranges from $50,000 to $200,000. With money like that on the table, an unscrupulous door-to-door energy salesperson can employ a number of shady practices.
Again, the evidence is mostly anecdotal. But here are a few practices uncovered by ChooseEnergy.com:
Save now, not later:
“Sign on the spot RIGHT NOW to get a much lower electricity or natural gas supply rate,” the person at your door says. The insidious thing about this one: You really might get a much lower rate – at first. Part of the reason for the rush is to deter you from thoroughly studying the terms of the deal. You could end up with a low three-month introductory rate that would then transfer into the supplier’s much higher default rate. In this case, the salesperson isn’t lying, he or she is just manipulating you into not reading the contract fully or understanding its terms.
Slam, bam, thank you, ma’am:
That nice young man wearing a suit and holding a binder with the name of your electric company tells you there’s a problem with your account and asks to see your most recent bill to straighten it out. In reality, he’s from a competing electricity provider, and he wants to see your bill to get your account number. That’s all he needs in some cases to switch your supplier – it’s called “slamming.” And victims don’t realize anything is different unless they look closely at their next bill.
One Reddit user shared this type of experience with an unscrupulous energy salesperson: “He had a big binder with my company’s logo on it and he said there was a problem with my bill.” Despite asking the man to provide documentation or leave, he continued to push, and eventually got a look at the Reddit user’s bill before being forced from the home.
This isn’t just a concern for homeowners; businesses often fall prey to this tactic too when salespeople try to speak with employees. In this instance, it’s crucial for business owners to ensure all employees are taught to look out for these scams.
I’m from your electric company, and I’m here to help:
Sometimes the person dressed in your electric utility’s uniform will tell you he or she needs to come inside to discuss your service, say your service is in danger of being turned off unless you pay an immediate fee, or knock on your door during an outage and tell you to pay a fee for an express service restoration. In this situation, there are three possibilities:
- Scam. It is unlikely a utility representative will stop by unless the company contacted you beforehand to say it was sending someone over. This scenario may even be worse than a scam – it could be a criminal scoping out your place and your possessions for a break-in.
- Scam. This is not the way utilities operate, even if you fall behind on a payment. Plus, an energy company representative will never ask for cash on the spot, prepaid cards or same-day money wires.
- Scam. There’s no such thing as an express service restoration.
Who can I trust?
Use reputable resources such as Choose Energy to learn about and compare deregulated energy providers and plans. Choose Energy offers an easy and secure way to purchase deregulated energy from trusted providers in your local area. You choose the plan that’s right for you, and buy when you’re ready and informed after studying the terms of the deal carefully.
What do energy companies that employ door-to-door sales agents do to promote transparency for customers? Here’s a sampling of polices:
- SFE Energy, based in Buffalo, NY, sells natural gas and electricity, and it advises customers to ask for a business card.
- Spark Energy, based in Houston, says to identify its agents through photo name badges, vendor ID number and agent ID number. It also offers a phone number that people can call to verify an agent’s status.
Seven tips to avoid energy scams
Remember, not every door-to-door energy salesperson is a scammer. And, frankly, many people won’t engage with them – the only surefire way to avoid being taken in. But sometimes a salesperson really will have a good deal for you.
How can you avoid a door-to-door energy scam? Follow these tips when you open the door:
- Know who the salesperson represents. Don’t assume that wearing clothing or carrying a clipboard with a company logo you recognize means the salesperson actually works for that company. Ask to see identification, including proof of employment by an energy company.
- Protect your personal information. This means more than guarding your Social Security, bank account, and credit/debit card numbers. Don’t show any door-to-door salesperson your energy bill, which will include your utility account number.
- Know your current energy providers. This will head off that utility bill request above. You get bonus points for knowing the rate you’re paying for electricity or natural gas. (It’s also on the bill).
- Know your state’s policy on “cooling off” periods. States such as New York allow consumers up to three days to cancel purchases without penalty.
- Sweat the details of an energy contract. What’s the rate? How long will it last? What happens when it ends? Are there fees, including cancellation fees?
- Be aware. Stay current on local happenings and whether scammers are operating in your area. You can use the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker to learn more about potential scams in your area.
- Don’t be embarrassed to report scams. If you believe you’re a victim of a door-to-door energy scam, call your energy provider, the local police and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Lee, the spokesman for the energy supplier association, points out one more tried and true tactic.
“If any customers feel pressured, they always have the right to terminate the conversation and ask the sales representative to leave,” he says.
The key is being informed before the doorbell rings and being prepared to think things through carefully.
Criminals posing as utility company employees have developed new, increasingly aggressive scams designed to trick consumers out of money or personal information — and with the holidays coming up, experts believe the threats will only continue to increase.
Law enforcement, utility companies, and consumer protection agencies have issued warnings in states as widespread as Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin about new tactics that have fooled thousands of people across the country.
“These scammers take tens of thousands of dollars a year from our customers by sounding sincere while they lie,” Jim Duggan of Con Edison said in a statement. “We want our customers to be able to recognize signs that someone is a professional criminal trying to steal from them.”
The coordinated awareness campaign is part of Utility Scam Awareness Week, put on by the consortium Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS). “I wish, after three years of this fight, we can say that we have dried up the ill-gotten profits of these scammers,” UUAS founder Jared Lawrence told WSOC. “Unfortunately, they’re just as aggressive as ever.”
Here’s what you need to watch out for in order to keep yourself and your money safe:
Over the Phone
Calls demanding immediate, large payments to avoid service shut-off — especially in the form of a prepaid card — often signal a scam. Real companies would issue several disconnection warnings beforehand and they would never demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment.
Don’t let the caller ID fool you either. Criminals now use a tactic called “spoofing” to imitate legitimate companies. The UUAS has helped shut down more than 2,000 toll-free numbers used by imposters in the past few years and noticed a rise in texts requesting personal information as well.
WHAT TO DO: Hang up and call the phone number on your utility bill if you have questions. Never provide payment or personal info to a caller you don’t know.
Stay suspicious of any person that shows up outside of a scheduled appointment. Some popular scams include:
- Offers to restore power quickly after a large storm in return for payment or a “reconnection fee”
- Demands for a separate payment to replace or install a meter
- Requests to inspect equipment or conduct an audit in order to gain access to your home
WHAT TO DO: Ask to see company photo ID and call your utility company to verify their information before letting them in. Call 911 if you believe you’re in personal danger.
Thieves can send out spam with similar requests or demands that imitates your utilities’ logos and color schemes. Never click on suspicious links or attachments. Don’t forward or respond to fishy emails either.
WHAT TO DO: Check the sender’s email address against past messages from your utility company. Look for websites that start with “https://” as the “s” stands for secure. Keep your software updated and use an antivirus program.
Through Unsecure Forms of Payment
Scammers frequently demand money in the form of prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers to a phony account routing number. Con Edison in New York has also warned customers about threats demanding money in the form of the untraceable electronic currency Bitcoin.
Conversely, criminals may also call to say you overpaid a bill and they need financial information like a bank account or credit card number in order to issue a refund. Legitimate companies would credit overpayments against your account or mail a check.
WHAT TO DO: Make sure the company offers a variety of ways to pay a bill. Contact law enforcement and your utility company if you believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam.
Caroline Picard Health Editor Caroline is the Health Editor at GoodHousekeeping.com covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.
Watch out for messages that urge you to act fast — \u00e2\u0080\u009cthis is an urgent public service announcement regarding your electric bill\u00e2\u0080\u009d — Volzke added. Con artists need to fabricate a sense of urgency so victims won\u00e2\u0080\u0099t have time to think clearly or verify their claims.
Notably, consumers are particularly vulnerable in 10 area codes, where the scammers have managed to spoof the numbers of the local utility. Those area codes\/communities, according to Hiya:
The best advice: Hang up.\u00a0
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Con artists are using consumers’ comfort with their local power companies as a way to get access to their wallets. These utility scams soared 109 percent last year, according to Hiya, a phone spam protection company.
Pretending to represent General Electric (GE), Duke Energy (DUK) and other power providers, scammers made millions of calls in 2016, said Hiya, which reviewed 3.5 billion calls made to iPhones and Android devices.
“Scammers are constantly looking for new ways to defraud consumers,” said Jan Volzke, vice president at Hiya. “While many consumers now know to be wary of calls claiming to be from the IRS or offering a free cruise, the latest threat comes disguised in the form of the utility companies that we trust to provide our basic services, like gas and electricity.”
She said utility scams come in three distinct varieties:
- An offer to cut your utility bill. Scammers say they may have a plan that could lower your electric bill, but they need your account and/or billing information to “review” your account.
- A warning that your payment is seriously overdue. Threatening that your electricity is about to be shut off unless you make an immediate payment, consumers may be directed to send a MoneyGram, use a prepaid card or call a toll-free number to avoid a service interruption. The phony call center is aimed at collecting consumers’ private account information.
- A promise of federal assistance. The call will usually say you’re eligible for a reduced rate due to a federal program. You just need to “verify” your account information.
In every case, the call aims to convince consumers to give the con artist untraceable cash, such as a prepaid debit card, or access to their account information, which could lead to identity theft, Hiya officials said.
Watch out for messages that urge you to act fast — “this is an urgent public service announcement regarding your electric bill” — Volzke added. Con artists need to fabricate a sense of urgency so victims won’t have time to think clearly or verify their claims.
Notably, consumers are particularly vulnerable in 10 area codes, where the scammers have managed to spoof the numbers of the local utility. Those area codes/communities, according to Hiya:
The best advice: Hang up.
If you think your bill really might be overdue or that you might qualify for a federal program or a discount, call your utility provider independently at the consumer help number listed on its website or your bill. Also know that real utility companies — and real businesses in general — never require you to pay with a prepaid debit card.
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Protect yourself from door-to-door energy scams
What is an energy scam?
Energy deregulation is a big part of life in Texas, and door-to-door energy scams unfortunately come with it. What is a door-to-door energy scam? They come in a few different forms:
- A salesperson comes to your door and promises you savings if you sign up right now.
- Someone claiming to be from your electric company tells you he or she needs to see your most recent bill to fix a problem with your account.
- A representative dressed in your electric utility’s uniform threatens to disconnect your service unless you pay an immediate fee or offers you an express service restoration during a power outage for a fee.
Door-to-door scams are a real problem in the deregulated energy space, with the third Wednesday of November officially designated as Utilities United Against Scams Day. In early December, the utility company AEP Texas warned customers in the Lone Star State of a scam in the San Angelo area.
So how can you avoid an expensive and cumbersome mistake?
How to protect yourself from energy scams
- Know the facts. Protect yourself before the doorbell even rings by knowing the name of your current provider and the rate you’re paying for electric service. Both of these things can be found on your bill and can save you from giving up personal information in the event someone does come knocking.
- On that note, don’t ever give your bill to anyone. Door-to-door scams work because the scammer sees your bill, writes down your account number, and can switch your service to a different plan and provider (likely with a different rate) without you ever knowing. If someone asks for your bill, that’s your first tip-off that they might be conducting a scam.
- Ask for ID. Many scammers wear uniforms that look like those of the company they claim to represent. But just because they look the part doesn’t mean they’re the real deal. You have the right to see their ID and call their supposed employer to find out if they’re legit.
- Be detail-oriented. If someone at your door offers you a better rate with a new plan, evaluate that plan carefully. Check the rate and how long the plan lasts (the term length). Know what happens when it ends and if there are cancellation or early termination fees involved. Don’t feel pressured to sign up on the spot.
- Stay informed. Know about any scams happening in your area and don’t be embarrassed to report an incident if you think you’ve been a victim of a scam. If that happens, you should call your provider (there should be a phone number on your bill), get in touch with the local police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
With these five tips, you can safely protect against energy scam activities. Remember, you always have the right to ask a door-to-door salesperson to leave your property. If you’re ever unsure, you can call your energy provider or your utility company at any time to see if what the person at your door is telling you checks out.
Jenna is a writer covering the environment and energy industry. She is a Massachusetts native and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and French.
Updated July 24, 2019: Scams always seem obvious after the fact. Scammers are smart: they know their story doesn’t always have to make sense. It just has to scare or fool their mark into believing that the scammer is the only one who can help them.
Emotional manipulation is easy when it comes to your utilities. Utilities are literally your lifeline: electricity keeps your food cold and your lights on, gas heats your food and water and apartment. Without them, you can’t live a normal life.
Here’s how to negotiate your utility bills and save thousands.
These three scams all feature some sort of emotional manipulation. Want to avoid being the victim? We tell you the tell-tale signs of a scam so you can outsmart the scammers.
The ol’ ESCO switcheroo
A lot of people don’t know that, in some states, you can choose who provides your electricity and gas. The idea behind this is that consumers can choose companies who provide lower rates or source their power from renewable resources.
Instead, consumers are being tricked into paying even higher rates for electricity. How does the scam work? Companies hire salespeople to knock on your door and tell you that they can save you money on your electricity bill. They’ll ask to see your electricity bill so they can point out all the ways they can help you save.
Of course, they’re not trying to help you save. A lot of times, these ESCOs will advertise low introductory rates before they jack up the price months later. Sometimes, they’re just lying to you. The worst part? You don’t even have to agree to anything – if they see your account number, they can take it and switch you to a different ESCO without your permission.
The second worst part? Most of these salespeople don’t know they’re scammers. Companies lie to them and make them believe that they’re actually helping people.
Another variation on this scam has people calling you instead of coming to your door.
Not every ESCO is a scam. We talked to Choose Energy about their ESCO comparison service and discovered just how much money you could save on your electricity bill.
Avoid the scam: If someone comes up to your door and asks to see your electricity bill, do not give it to them under any circumstances. Politely refuse and close the door. If you live in an apartment building and have a building manager, alert to them to the scammer so that they can escort them out of the building.
If someone calls you claiming they can lower your electricity bill if you just give them your account number, do not give them your account number.
(You can lower your bills by doing this.)
Someone calls you up and tells you that you’re behind on your bills. If you don’t pay up now, they’re going to shut off your electricity. They ask you to give them a credit card number, or preferably, the account and routing number for your bank account.
This scam has been around for years, but it works because it scares people into action before they can think twice.
Most utility companies will never call you on the phone in order to inform you that your power is being shut off. They prefer to communicate by mail. And don’t be fooled by the caller ID: scammers can spoof their phone number into looking like it’s from your state, even if they’re in another part of the country or abroad.
Avoid the scam: If someone calls you on the phone and says your electricity or gas is being turned off, hang up the phone immediately and alert local authorities of criminal activity. Contact your utility company’s billing department to confirm you’re in good standing and to alert them of the scam.
(Here’s how to stop those spam calls for once and for all.)
Utility outages are a drag. Severe weather can knock out your power, your gas, your internet and cable for days on end. (Here’s what you need to know about protecting your home in severe weather.)
Now imagine that in the middle of your next outage, someone knocks on your door and offers to reconnect your utilities for a cash fee. You want your utilities back as soon as possible, and they’re wearing a company uniform, so of course you give them the cash. Then you wait. And the utilities don’t come back on. When they do, hours or days later, you notice that the entire neighborhood is back on. You weren’t given preferential treatment and nothing was done to your house.
Utility companies will never ask you for cash, even if a charge is applicable for reconnecting your service. On top of that, utility companies won’t send representatives to your home without confirming with you ahead of time.
Avoid the scam: Don’t give cash to any “representative” who comes to your home, even if they do have a uniform or ID. If someone does come to your home, call your utility company to confirm that they’re a real employee and authorized to be there.
Scams, scams everywhere
Follow the advice above and you’ll outsmart every scammer that shows up on your doorstep. Remember: when in doubt, contact your utility company through a secure line listed on their official website. They’ll be able to help you in most scammy situations.
Do you have a story about a utility scam? Maybe you outsmarted them and sent a criminal to jail? Or you were emotionally manipulated into giving up cash and now you’re out to warn others? Whatever the case, give us a shout in the comments below.
Want to learn more? Here’s how to avoid a credit scam.
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Be cautious of electricity service scammers
April 8, 2019 – If someone calls or knocks on your door promising a better deal on electricity, proceed with caution, officials warn, since you could be misled into switching to a supplier that ultimately will cost more and charge unexpected fees should you later try to switch back.
The scam is not that sophisticated. Companies hire salespeople to call and go door-to-door offering to save you money on your electricity bill. They may ask for your account number or to see your bill so they can point out all the ways they can help you save.
Of course, they’re probably not trying to help you save. These companies likely are selling a low introductory rate that will go up a few months later. Or they may just be trying to get your account number so they can switch you to a different provider without your permission.
Every year since 2011, the Village has bundled residential and small business electric accounts and sought competitive bids from electricity suppliers. The state law that gave the Village this authority also opened the door to companies that market their programs directly to consumers.
While some of the companies may be approved by the state, high-pressure salespeople often are accused of misleading consumers about the costs and risks of signing up.
ComEd, which owns the wires and poles, continues to distribute the power and is responsible for outages and billing, regardless of the power supplier. These costs – power generation and distribution – actually appear as separate line items on your bill.
Enrollment for Oak Park’s municipal electricity aggregation program typically opens in the fall and all eligible customers are enrolled automatically unless they have opted out previously through a very specific process within a set time period.
According to some residents, door-to-door and telephone solicitors may claim erroneously that the Village electricity aggregation program’s enrollment period is open and tell consumers they have to make a choice immediately or risk losing their electricity service.
Representatives from the Village or the supplier selected for the municipal aggregation program never solicit door-to-door or by telephone. Customers eligible to participate in the program receive an official notice in the mail of the new enrollment period. Those already enrolled can disregard the notice unless they wish to opt out and customers not enrolled in the program are invited to join.
Regardless of any action or lack of action by the customer, electricity service is not affected. ComEd also seeks bids annually for a default supplier. Any customer that opts out of the Village program, but does not pick another state-approved supplier, is billed for electricity by ComEd’s vendor.
ComEd, like the Village, does not go door-to-door or call to seek customers for its default electricity supplier.
Of course, not every electricity provider seeking customers is a scammer. In fact, consumers have the option of choosing from scores of suppliers approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
But choosing a third-party supplier other than the Village aggregation partner requires careful consideration of the options and reading all of the fine print – including comparing fees for termination. More information on providers is posted online at www.pluginillinois.org.
As in any financial transaction or service contract, officials urge consumers to proceed with caution and common sense. But following these basic guidelines may help you avoid the scammers:
- Never share your account number in person or over the telephone
- Never allow a solicitor to see your bill
- Never make a payment to a door-to-door solicitor or over the telephone
- Never share your credit card number, social security number or other personal information
Commercial door-to-door solicitors are required to be licensed by the Village Clerk to operate in Oak Park. Residents who feel threatened by an aggressive solicitor are urged to call 911.
Anyone with concerns about the status of an electricity account can call ComEd at 1.800.334.7661. You will need to provide your account number for this service.
For more information on the Village’s electricity aggregation program, call 708.358.5770 or email [email protected]