Attorney General Ford Warns of Utility Imposter Scams Involving QR Codes

November 12, 2020

Carson City, NV – Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford is warning Nevadans to be cautious of increasingly sophisticated utility imposter scams as winter approaches and COVID-19 cases increase. Scammers attempt to mislead and defraud consumers and small local business owners. 

“Scammers use technology to capitalize on times of uncertainty and hardship,” said AG Ford. "Protect yourself and your family by learning how to identify utility imposter scams involving QR codes sent directly to your smart phone.”  

Imposter scams, both online and over the phone, come in many forms. The basic utility imposter scam involves a scammer posing as a member of a reputable utility company demanding money from unsuspecting customers. These types of scams unfortunately victimize both the consumer and the utility company.

In a typical utility imposter scam, the scammer often calls from a number that has been "spoofed" to look like it belongs to the actual company; however, it is just an attempt to add legitimacy to the scam. The scammer usually explains that the consumer is behind on his or her utility bill and demands immediate payment to avoid a shutoff of utilities.

A new sophisticated twist to this basic scam involves the scammer requesting the consumer to go to a bill pay kiosk while the scammer remains on the phone. The scammer instructs the consumer to pay the bill pay kiosk in cash so the payment cannot be tracked. The scammer then texts a QR code to the consumer’s smart phone and instructs the consumer to scan the code at the bill pay kiosk. The scammer will tell the consumer the QR code is a “link” to the consumer’s utility account sent to the consumer to help ensure the consumer’s payment goes directly toward the consumer’s unpaid balance. However, in reality, the QR code is linked directly to the scammer’s account. Once the consumer puts the cash into the bill pay kiosk and scans the QR code, the consumer has unknowingly made a payment to the scammer, not to the utility.

Typically, utility companies 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, suspicious text message or in-person visit with no prior written notice. If you receive a phone call, text message or in-person visit without having received written notice, call your utility company directly using the number on your bill to discuss the status of your account. 

Ask for details about your account to verify whether the caller is legitimate. If the caller is unable or unwilling to provide details such as dates and amounts of prior invoices and payments, hang up and call the utility company directly. 

Remember, individuals of all ages and walks of life are susceptible to scams. Whether you are a college student or senior, do not hesitate to ask your family and friends about a suspicious text message or phone call you received from a potential scammer. Bring in people that you trust.

The Office of the Nevada Attorney General suggests the following additional tips to avoid utility imposter 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 telephone. 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; and 
  • 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.  

These 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. 

If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, you may file a complaint with the Office of the Nevada Attorney General here or with the Federal Trade Commission here.  

The Office of the Nevada Attorney General encourages Nevadans to protect their health and personal and financial information. For additional helpful information regarding the status of COVID-19 in Nevada, visit the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services website here.