Raising Awareness of Utility Scams During National Consumer Protection Week
March 5, 2020
The City of Austin Utilities and Austin Energy this week joined Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) to recognize National Consumer Protection Week and to educate customers on how they can guard against falling victim to utility scams.
As a member of UUAS — a consortium of 146 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas utilities and their respective trade associations — Austin Energy works across the industry with regulators, law enforcement and telecommunications partners to stop scams targeting utility customers. (Austin Energy manages customer care and billing for all City of Austin utilities.)
Since October 2019, more than 1,300 scams have been reported to the City of Austin and 19 Austin customers have been scammed out of more than $20,000. Though Austin Energy continues efforts to educate customers on how they can guard against getting duped by scammers, it has even happened to at least one City of Austin employee, who is also a utility customer. Unfortunately, she was tricked into paying $500 while she was busy moving into her new home. She wants to help educate others about how convincing utility scammers are and help prevent this happening to others.
UUAS and its member companies continue to create awareness of common and new scam tactics and, to date, have helped to cease operations of more than 6,000 toll-free numbers used against utility customers by scammers.
"Scammers can rob customers of their hard-earned money and, in a worst-case scenario, leave them struggling to make ends meet for their household or small business," said UUAS Executive Director Monica Martinez. "UUAS helps utility companies educate their customers so they don't fall victim to fraud and scams. We work to shut down fraudulent toll-free numbers, highlight common scam tactics and provide resources to customers to help them better protect themselves from scammers who steal their money and their peace of mind."
Signs of Potential Scam Activity
- Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer that his or her utility bill is past due and that service will be disconnected if a payment is not made. Typically, the scammer will tell the customer that a disconnection will come within an hour.
- Request for immediate payment via prepaid card: Scammers may instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card and call a number to make an immediate bill payment to his or her utility company. Once the funds are received from prepaid card, there is no way to refund or reverse the transaction.
- Fraudulent electronic communications: Scammers may disguise themselves as the utility by sending spam emails with logos, trademarks, website links and wording to lure the customer into making a false payment or providing personal information.
How Customers Can Protect Themselves
- Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. City of Austin Utilities accepts mail-in or walk-in payments or payments online at www.coautilities.com.
- If someone threatens immediate disconnection or shutoff of service, customers should hang up the phone, delete the email or shut the door. Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification. Utilities never send a single notification one hour or less before disconnection. Anyone who has received such a call or email and is uncertain of his or her account status can call the City of Austin Utilities Customer Contact Center at 512-494-9400.
- If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email or shut the door. They should call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 and report the incident immediately.
Learn how to avoid phone scams. The Federal Trade Commission’s website is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information.