End the Call. End the Scam: Utility scammers spoofing City of Austin phone numbers to prey on utility customers
January 26, 2022
Austin experienced its first real cold snap last week and scammers took that opportunity to take advantage of City of Austin Utilities customers. Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 18, customers reported receiving calls which appeared to be from a City of Austin phone number. The scammers spoofed several different City numbers, including Austin 3-1-1. Unfortunately since Jan. 1, at least 200 City of Austin utility customers reported receiving scam calls and 14 customers paid nearly $13,000.
The scam artists continue to dupe people by calling and telling them their utility bill is past due and that their utilities will be shut off if they don’t make an immediate payment. They’re using a variety of tactics that include:
- Masking City of Austin phone numbers or using other numbers that come across caller ID as “COA” or “Austin City.”
- Telling customers that payment systems at local grocery stores haven’t been working and they are now months behind on utility bills.
- Telling customers that City of Austin payment systems haven’t been working and they are now months behind on utility bills.
- Directing customers to buy pre-paid credit cards to make immediate payment over the phone.
- Sending customers a text with a QR code and asking them to go to specific stores to make payment using the code. In one case, the scammer stayed on the line with the customer and sent her several QR codes until one worked.
- Preying on both English and Spanish-speaking customers.
Here’s what customers need to know to avoid utility scammers:
- City of Austin Utilities does not call residential customers with cut-off deadlines. (Note: Commercial customers may receive a courtesy call two days prior to scheduled cut off for non-payment.)
- City of Austin Utilities will never ask for credit card or wire transfer information over the phone.
- While some customers do pay in cash, the City will never demand immediate payment in person with cash, gift card, Bitcoin or by QR code.
If a City of Austin customer receives a phone call threatening to interrupt service, demand immediate payment, or request credit card or bank account information, hang up and dial 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 and report the incident immediately. Anyone who has received such a call or email and is uncertain of their account status can call the Utilities Customer Contact Center at 512-494-9400. Payments can be made online at COAUtilities.com, in-person at walk-in centers or authorized payment sites or by mailing it to: City of Austin Utilities - Payment Processing, P.O. Box 2267, Austin, TX 78783-2267.
City of Austin Utilities works closely with Utilities United Against Scams, a consortium of nearly 150 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas utilities and their respective trade associations, continues to raise customer awareness of common scams and new scam tactics being used by utility impostors. Through its work and with the help of customer reporting, UUAS has successfully helped to take nearly 12,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers against utility customers out of operation.
Visit austinenergy.com or utilitiesunited.org for more information and tips on how customers can protect themselves from impostor utility scams, and follow along with UUAS on Twitter and Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission also provides additional information about protecting personal information and other information regarding impostor scams.