March 7, 2018
***National Consumer Protection Week Consumer Alert***
Carson City, NV – Today, Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt warns individuals and businesses of utility impostor scams. In these scams, a caller claims to be from the utility company and threatens to shut off a property’s supply of power, water or gas because the customer’s account is past due. These scams take advantage of a homeowners need to access basic utilities such as heat, air conditioning or drinking water. Similarly, the scam also takes advantage of businesses’ reliance on these same utilities to keep their customers comfortable or preserve perishable goods. Faced with the possibility of losing access to these essential utilities, many consumers are quick to pay hundreds of dollars or more to scammers.
“These scams are advanced through scare tactics—where individuals and businesses are faced with the frightening prospect of losing access to heat, cooling or water,” said Laxalt. “These impostors want you to act out of fear and immediate need. I encourage all Nevadans to take the time to pause and think about potential red flags before reacting to potential scams.”
Recognizing the scam is the first step to avoid being victimized. A utility company should send at least two past due notices in writing before disconnecting or terminating service, and consumers should be suspicious if they receive a threatening phone call with no prior written notice. If you are receiving such a phone call, you are encouraged to hang up and call your utility company directly using the number of on your bill to discuss your account. Consumers should remain calm.
It is also important to note the timing of the call, as impostors will often call late in the afternoon and create a sense of urgency that the past due account must be resolved before close of business that day. This tactic causes the customer to focus on submitting their payment quickly, rather than confirming whether their account is actually delinquent.
It is also important to note how much information the impostor has regarding your referenced account. While it’s possible that an impostor could have access to your full or partial account number, it is highly unlikely he or she would have the dates and amounts of prior invoices and payments. If the caller is unable or unwilling to provide details such as dates and amounts of prior invoices and payments, the consumer is encouraged to hang up and call his or her utility company directly to discuss any potential issues with payment.
The Office of the Nevada Attorney General suggests the following additional tips to avoid utility disconnection scams:
- If you are being pressured to make an immediate payment, remain calm and ask questions to confirm your account status before making a payment.
- Don’t agree to make payments by wire transfer or with a prepaid card over the phone. A legitimate utility representative will explain to a customer how a payment can be made using the utility’s established payment options, and will not demand payment over the phone.
- Don’t feel pressured by an upcoming weekend or holiday. According to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission website, a utility company may not disconnect or terminate service the day before a weekend, on the weekend or on a State holiday, unless a safety issue requires disconnection.
- All the above tips also apply if a utility company representative comes to your home to demand payment for a past due account. In this situation, ask to view an identification badge with the representative’s full name, and then call the utility company directly to discuss the status of your account.
The Office of the Nevada Attorney General welcomes information about impostor utility scams. Those who suspect they may have been victimized by a scam may file complaints with our office here. The FTC also encourages consumers contacted by an impostor to report the conduct by using the FTC’s complaint assistant.