Saturday, September 18, 2021
Sept. 18, 2021

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Energy Adviser: Be on guard for scammers claiming to be from utility

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The contact comes out of nowhere.

Maybe it’s a call or perhaps an email, someone might even come to your door. Regardless how of it comes, the message is clear: We’re from the utility you owe us money; pay up now or we’ll cut your power.

“Clark Public Utilities” might appear on the caller ID. The voice on the other end of the line might be friendly or they may be demanding — two contacts are rarely the same. But one thing is always true: The person making the demand is a fraud, and they’re counting on the demand to catch you off guard and push you into making a payment.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed down scammers, it’s only emboldened them and added new narratives to their book of deceit. As a smart consumer, you should do everything you can to guard yourself against their tricks.

“We want our customers to trust but verify,” Customer Service Manager Robert Hill said. “Trust that we as a utility are going to do the right thing on their behalf and to always work with them, but verify that it’s actually a Clark Public Utilities representative contacting them and not a scammer.”

To put it plainly: Anyone who contacts you claiming to be from the utility and threatening to disconnect your power on the spot is a fraud. Pure and simple.

In the moment it might not seem that way. Scammers have become quite sophisticated.

As mentioned earlier, the caller ID often reads “Clark Public Utilities” along with the utility’s customer service phone number. The automated system on the other side of the line may sound just like the utility’s system. The person who gets on the line next will sound just like an employee. They might know some of your personal information or ask you to “verify” it by giving it to them. Next, they’ll say you’re behind for an amount that’s very close to a few months’ worth of payments, then they’ll say you have just minutes to pay up or else your service will be disconnected.

“They’re very convincing,” Hill said. “They’ll call small businesses at peak hours, they’ll call residential customers in the evenings or maybe early mornings or weekends and they’ll often target customers who they believe might not speak English as a first language. The whole trick is to catch you off guard.”

As convincing as it may be, a closer inspection will reveal a paper tiger.

Scammers usually direct their targets to go to a store and purchase prepaid gift, debit or “green dot” cards, then call a specific phone number to make the payment. Again, the automated system sounds just like the utility’s. Then a scammer gets on the phone, gets the card information and hangs up.

“That right there is when the alarm bells should be ringing. Clark Public Utilities will never demand a payment method like that,” Hill said. “The best thing to do then is just hang up.”

Sadly, many victims don’t stop there. They only realize they’ve been had after going through all the steps.

Customers can and should file a police report and a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll get that money back. Scammers choose payment methods that are near impossible to trace. As a public utility, Clark Public Utilities cannot reimburse customers who have fallen for a fraud.

Be wary whenever someone claiming to be from the utility contacts you. Simply hang up or close the door and call the utility directly to verify the contact was made by an actual employee.

“A utility employee will never argue or hesitate to share identification because a customer wants to be cautious,” Hill said. “We do it all the time.”

Clark Public Utilities customer service representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 360-992-3000. More information on protecting yourself from scams is available at clarkpublicutilities.com.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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