Utility scams run rampant; what you can do

Year after year, scammers target business owners and unsuspecting homeowners by posing as representatives with utility, electric or natural gas companies. These scammers call, e-mail or knock on doors saying you must pay an unpaid bill or buy equipment immediately or your service will be shut off.

Their goal is to get victims’ money and/or personal information. They use scare tactics, targeting customers who fear their payments were missed and will lose service.

In 2016, Telephone and Mobile Services and Imposter scams accounted for a combined total of 24 percent of the Top 10 Fraud and Other Complaint Categories Reported by Ohio Consumers according to the Federal Trade Commission. These scams are costing victims hundreds of dollars each year.

BBB offers these tips to help keep you safe from these scammers:

• Call the number on your utility bill and ask about your payments if you aren’t sure the request is legitimate.

• Know utilities don’t ask for pre-paid debit cards or wire transfers for payment and will provide ample time for customers to make a payment before service is terminated. Report the call immediately to your utility company if the caller requests one of these forms of payment. Your utility company will accept a check or credit card.

• Keep in mind it should be a red flag if callers are aggressive about needing a payment or your utilities will be shut off.

• Don’t be caught off guard and provide personal information (credit card and bank information, social security numbers). Many times, these scammers have a little bit of information about you and use it to persuade you to provide more personal information.

• Never allow anyone into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.

Utilities have also become a competitive industry and you have your choice of suppliers. If you’re considering making a switch in suppliers, follow PUCO’s four simple steps:

• Compare offers

• Contact suppliers and ask questions

• Read and understand the contract

• Receive confirmation.

You can report utility scams to your utility company, Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) and BBB. For more information on reliable utility businesses, visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301 for a list of BBB Accredited Businesses and Business Profiles on ones you’re considering. PUCO can also provide a list of competitive/regulated companies. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel is also a good resource for utilities information.

John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau.

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