Scam Alert: Officials Warn Families About New Developments in Utility Shut-Off Scams
Scam may be targeting certain families, requiring payment with prepaid card
Friday, February 21st, 2020 – Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull, Attorney General William Tong, Public Utilities Regulatory Chairman Marissa Gillett, AARP Connecticut State Director Nora Duncan, Connecticut Water Company President Maureen Westbrook and Regional Water Authority’s Manager of Corporate Communications Dan Doyle today urged Connecticut families to recognize the signs that they’re being targeted by scam artists threatening to turn off their utilities.
In this scam, someone typically calls, but might also text message or email claiming to be a representative from a local utility company. Scammers will threaten to shut off consumers’ power unless they pay hundreds of dollars immediately in an untraceable form of payment such as a wire transfer or prepaid card.
The Office of the Attorney General has received reports that scammers are specifically targeting low-income Eversource consumers, who already struggle to pay their bill, threatening utility shut-off and demanding immediate payment via a prepaid card.
If you receive a phone call, email or text message from a scammer who threatens to shut off your power unless you provide payment immediately, you should:
- Hang up the phone. Don’t click on any links, and if it looks suspicious, don’t open the text or email.
- Never pay anyone via prepaid card or wire transfer. Reputable companies will never require you to.
- Contact your utility company to report the scam, and to verify that you don’t owe any money. Use the contact information you typically use to contact them, not any contact information you received through a potentially fraudulent message.
- Remember, your utility company will not demand immediate payment to prevent shut-off over the phone in the State of Connecticut.
“Ensuring that families have access to power is even more important during the winter months, and scam artists know that,” said Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull, “That’s why they take advantage of those most in need, and we want them to know that it’s not acceptable in our state. We want to do everything we can to make sure consumers in Connecticut know their rights and encourage them to reach out to us should they have any questions.”
“Each year, scammers look for new ways to cheat consumers out of their hard-earned cash. Recently, our office has received reports of scammers specifically targeting consumers who already struggle to pay their electric bills, threatening to shut-off their power if they don’t immediately send money via a pre-paid card. Our office is investigating how these scammers may have accessed important information about consumers. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam, our office is here to help,” said Attorney General Tong.
“The electric sector is the backbone of the economy, and yet we still face significant energy affordability challenges in this state for our residents and businesses,” said Marissa P. Gillett, chairman of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. “While PURA has convened advocates, utilities, state agencies and other stakeholders in an ongoing proceeding meant to address deep-seated barriers to energy affordability in this state, of immediate concern is communicating with customers about the existing programs and resources available to keep the heat on during this winter season. Residents who need assistance should reach out to their utility and ask for information about hardship protections and payment options. Eversource can be reached at 800-286-2828; UI can be reached at 800-722-5584.”
“Much like food and medicine, electricity is a necessity and while victims range across the economic spectrum, scammers most often prey on people who are already struggling to pay their electric bills and cannot afford another hit. AARP Fraud Watch Network has free up-to-date resources for anyone to learn how to spot and avoid scams with ‘watchdog alerts,’ scam-tracking map, community presentations by trained AARP peer educators, and a toll-free fraud helpline,” said Nora Duncan, State Director of AARP CT.
“Scammers target both residential and business customers and no part of the state is immune,” said Eversource Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Penni Conner. “The key to stopping these scammers is to stay calm - don’t panic and don’t pay. Together with our fellow energy companies, the Attorney General, the Department of Consumer Protection, AARP and local law enforcement, we’re urging any of our customers who receive a suspicious phone call or home visit to call us at 1-800-286-2000 to verify any request for payment or personal information.”
“Connecticut Water is committed to customer safety and security. Unfortunately, we have seen instances over the years where an imposter gains access to a customer’s home by posing as a water company employee supposedly there to check their meter and then an accomplice comes in while the homeowner is distracted and steals from them. Our Be Sure Before You Open the Door program allows us to provide customers with a photo of our employee before the employee shows up for a scheduled appointment so the customer can be confident it is a real Connecticut Water employee,” stated Maureen Westbrook, president and CEO of Connecticut Water. Westbrook also added, “Consumers should ask for a photo ID and look for the utility logo on clothing and vehicles any time someone says they are from a utility and asks to enter the home. If something doesn’t feel right they should call the utility and notify local authorities.”
“The Regional Water Authority (RWA) takes steps to ensure that residents of the communities in our service area can easily verify the work we do in order to help protect themselves against scammers,” said RWA Police Captain Paul Ruggiero. “A common tactic of scammers is to pose as utility employees and warn of an imminent service termination unless you pay. When someone tells you there is no time to stop and think, it’s usually the best time to do so. If someone contacts you or a loved one and claims to be from the RWA, always ask for identification and don’t hesitate to call our office directly at 203-562-4020 and ask for verification. Most importantly, never let someone in your home if you do not know them or they don’t prove their identity.”
The Office of the Attorney General also began to receive reports last year that scammers may have access to important information about consumers such as accurate account numbers and delinquent bills, making it even harder for consumers to detect the scam.
If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, or recognize the signs of a scam, you are encouraged to let the state know using the contact information below:
Office of the Attorney General
AARP’s toll-free Fraud Watch Network Helpline service at (877) 908-3360 can get you in touch with trained volunteers and staff between 7am and 11pm, ET Monday – Friday. More information about the Fraud Watch Network Helpline can be found here.
Find more tips from Connecticut Water Company on protecting yourself from utility imposters here.
Department of Consumer Protection
Lora Rae Anderson
(860) 713-6019 (office)
(860) 247-8711 (cell)
Office of the Attorney General
860-808-5324 (media office)
(860) 548-3164 (office)
Lora Rae Anderson
(860) 713-6019 (office)