Utility scams have returned to the scene. ConsumerAffairs has noticed recent spikes in Florida, Arkansas, New Jersey, California, and Arizona.
In California alone, based on data collected so far this year, scammers are on their way to doing 57,000 scam attempts in 2023 and snagging $1.26 million from PG&E customers.
But this time, it’s not the same old utility yadda yadda. This time, scammers are using QR codes and text messages in addition to phone calls to pull off their con job.
Case in point, Mesa Ariz., and a consumer named Chet Hopper. We’ll let KTVK-TV / KPHO-TV On Your Side’s Susan Campbell explain.
“Chet Hopper is busy driving for Uber and Lyft. He’s racking up more trips than usual, trying to make up for $1,300 he lost to a scammer. It started with a phone call from someone claiming to be from SRP," Campbell reported.
"They said [my electricity] was scheduled for shut off that day and I needed to get it taken care of right away,” Hopper told On Your Side.
Then, the scammers twisted the knife deeper, sending Hopper a text message with a bar code where he could supposedly pay the utility balance at Walgreens. Then there was a second bar code just to make sure Hopper knew this was serious business.
“I made the first payment for the $321, and they said that the bar code had timed out in their system and I needed to go and do it again, but I’d be reimbursed within 48 hours,” Hopper said. “Then they said, ‘well, you were supposed to pay a security deposit, and so I had another Walgreens barcode, $300.”
In all, Hopper made four transactions. “Turns out that was like a prepaid credit card that I’m just putting money on for these individuals,” he said.
Good morning, ma’am – we’re here to test your water
Another new utility scam has sprung up in Arkansas. According to Springdale Water Utilities, there’ve been reports of people trying to pass as their employees wanting to gain access to homes under the guise of testing the purity of water.
Unfortunately, consumers tend to trust public service officials at their word and don’t ask to see a badge or look at whether the person is wearing an official shirt or driving an official vehicle.
The lessons to be learned
Whether it’s Arkansas or Arizona or California, utility companies are going on the offensive, reminding their customers that they aren’t going to send them a text message telling them their utilities are about to be shut off; showing up at their front door without some sort of identification; and are not going to ask for payment by a money transfer service like PayPal or Zelle.
Like never, ever.
“As a reminder, PG&E will never send a single notification to a customer within one hour of a service interruption, and we will never ask customers to make payments with a pre-paid debit card, gift card, any form of cryptocurrency, or third-party digital payment mobile applications,” the company said in a news release warning its customers about what they can expect.
"If you ever receive a call threatening utility disconnection if you do not make immediate payment, hang up the phone and either log into your account on PGE.com or call our customer service number to confirm your account details. Remember, PG&E will never ask for your financial information over the phone or via email, nor will we request payment via pre-paid debit cards or other payment services like Zelle. End the call, end the scam," said Matt Foley, lead customer scam investigator for PG&E.
City officials in all of the other instances are preaching the same sermon. If you get a call from anyone who says they’re with the utility company, hang up and call the utility company’s customer service line immediately.