In recognition of Utility Scam Awareness Week, Nov. 16-20, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission highlighted the importance of being able to identify red flags from unknown callers.
Utility customers all over the country are targeted by imposter utility scams on a nearly daily basis. Scammers typically use phone, in-person, and online tactics to target customers. In many cases, the caller will pose as utility company personnel and use false threats to persuade consumers to provide payment or personal identification information.
“Scammers posing as utility company personnel typically threaten service disconnection or a financial penalty hoping to make the target panic and react in haste. That’s why we tell South Dakotans to identify threatening language and an urgent need for action as warning signs,” said PUC Chairman Gary Hanson. “The way a payment is requested can be another red flag. No legitimate utility company will insist on immediate payment specifically through pre-paid debit cards or other untraceable methods,” he continued.
When it came to scam calls in the past, the most vulnerable groups were usually older and known to be less tech-savvy. While these groups are still vulnerable, the development of new, more sophisticated scams have changed the risk outlook in recent years. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2019, millennials in their 20s and 30s were 25% more likely to report losing money to fraud than those 40 or older.
“The PUC wants to help South Dakotans protect their information, assets and identities. Learning to identify signs of a scam call and react appropriately are the first two steps to ensuring that you and your loved ones don’t fall victim to scammers. If you receive a suspicious phone call, hang up and contact your utility company using the phone number found on your utility bill. The company can verify if the call was legitimate and advise other customers not to fall for the same scheme,” stated Vice Chairman Chris Nelson.
Scam calls can come in many shapes and sizes. Some versions have been around for years, but other newer versions may be more difficult to identify. Callers posing as tech support, claiming you’ve overpaid your utility bill, offering to restore power more quickly following a big storm and contacting you through text or SMS messages that you never signed up for are all common scams to be aware of.
“Telephone scammers are criminals who want to defraud and trick consumers. Unfortunately, they’re also very difficult to catch. That’s why, when it comes to avoiding scams, knowledge is power. Educating yourself about scam calls happening in your area, identifying resources available to you, and understanding how you should respond to a call if you receive one are great steps to take now,” said Commissioner Kristie Fiegen.
Utility Scam Awareness Week was created in 2016 by Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a consortium of more than 140 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas utilities (and their respective associations).