City of Austin Utilities Raises Awareness of Utility Scams During National Consumer Protection Week

March 4, 2019

National Consumer Protection Tip to Stop ScamsIt is National Consumer Protection Week, and City of Austin Utilities and Austin Energy are continuing efforts to educate customers on how they can guard against falling victim to imposter utility scams. Since October 2018, more than 700 scams have been reported to the City of Austin and 21 Austin customers have been scammed out of $16,000.  

"Scammers are getting more and more sophisticated about how they prey on customers and we don’t want anyone to fall for their schemes," said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy General Manager. "We want our customers to know that we care, we are looking out for them and that the City of Austin offers safe, reliable ways for customers to pay their utility bills."

Austin Energy, the City of Austin's electric utility, which handles customer care and billing for all City of Austin Utilities, is a member of Utilities United Against Scams. UUAS is a consortium of 125 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas companies and their respective trade associations, which works across the industry with regulators, law enforcement and other telecommunications partners to stop scams targeting utility customers.

In 2018, UUAS and its member companies helped to shut down more than 2,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers to target utility customers. In October, the group was awarded the Toll-Free Industry's Fraud Fighter Award in recognition of its advocacy and awareness campaigns to stop scams. UUAS will be supporting National Consumer Protection Week and the Federal Trade Commission’s week-long advocacy and awareness campaign by reinforcing its efforts to expose the tactics scammers use to steal money from utility customers and by educating customers on how to protect themselves.

"Organizations join Utilities United Against Scams to help protect their customers and communities against fraud, and the impact of the coalition's efforts to combat impostor utility scams is evident," said UUAS Executive Director Monica Martinez. "The amount of fraudulent toll-free numbers reported by utilities account for roughly half of all numbers reported. In addition to our work shutting down fraudulent toll-free numbers, UUAS also will continue to highlight the most common scam tactics and will provide resources to help utility customers better protect themselves from impostor utility scammers."  

Signs of Potential Scam Activity:          

  • Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer his or her utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made – usually within less than an hour.
  • Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card – widely available at retail stores – then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment to his or her utility company.
  • Request for prepaid card: When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the card's funds, and the victim's money is gone.

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 utility scams. The Federal Trade Commission’s website​ is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information.

About Austin Energy
Customer Driven. Community Focused.
Austin Energy, the City of Austin's electric utility, serves more than 490,000 customer accounts and more than one million residents in Greater Austin. The utility's mission — to safely deliver clean, affordable, reliable energy and excellent customer service — has guided Austin Energy in powering the community and supporting the region’s growth since 1895. For more information about Austin Energy, visit austinenergy.com.

About Utilities United Against Scams
Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) is a consortium of 125 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities (and their respective trade associations). UUAS is dedicated to combating impostor utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices, in addition to working together to implement initiatives to inform and protect customers. Visit www.utilitiesunited.org for more information and tips about how customers can protect them­selves from scams or follow along on social media: Twitter @U_U_A_S and Facebook @UtilitiesUnited.


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