Shut-Off Swindle Among Utility Scams Preying on Granite Staters
CONCORD, N. H. – It's called the "Shut-off Swindle," and consumer advocates say it has reached record levels this winter, including preying on some utility customers in New Hampshire.
The scam comes in a couple of variations, according to Stephanye Schuyler, a volunteer fraud-fighter with AARP New Hampshire. Schuyler says the most common is a phone call that claims your utility service is in immediate danger of being shut off.
"The person on the phone will push for immediate payment or else your account will be shut off," she said. "Sometimes, those phone calls are robocalls and they give you a phone number to call back; and sometimes, it's a bogus email."
Schuyler says the number one way to avoid falling prey to this scam is to hang up the phone, call your utility company directly and ask them if your bill is up to date. You should also call before clicking on any emails, because fraudsters commonly use malware that can harm your computer and gain access to personal information.
Consumers can also get a call-blocker to head off robocalls. Schuyler says the main thing to remember is, you can count on getting plenty of advance notice if your bill is delinquent.
"These are not things that just come out of the blue," she noted. "Utilities are required to follow a multi-step process with the customer, and it includes written notification. So, a phone call that's a surprise really indicates something might be wrong."
Schuyler warns not to let down your guard any time soon, because a variation of this scam also is making the rounds. this one involves your utility meter.
"They might claim that the meters need to be repaired or replaced, and they 'immediately' need cash or a prepaid credit card to take care of these services," said Schuyler.
In reality, utility companies schedule these kinds of repairs in advance, and Schuyler says if there are costs associated with the repair, those would be added to your regular utility bill.
These scams are perennial; AARP has had information about preventing them online since 2010. But every year, people continue to fall for them.