LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — Received a strange call threatening to shut off your utilities? You're not alone.
Utility companies have reported an increase in customer complaints about phone scams where callers threaten shutoffs if consumers don't pay their bill immediately, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). The callers allegedly urge the victim to make payments via gift cards, Bitcoin or other forms of payment.
The increase in complaints also includes instances where callers use a tactic called Caller ID spoofing, which manipulates caller ID to make it appear as if a legitimate utility company is making the call.
Utilities report that the scammers appear to be targeting seniors and other vulnerable residential customers, along with schools.
The MPSC is reminding utility customers to keep their guard up against scams and check in on elderly relatives. Customers should know utility companies will never call customers with bullying tactics such as demanding immediate payment to prevent services from being shut off in a matter of hours.
The rise in complaints comes as utility companies, regulators and consumer advocates observe Utility Scam Awareness Week, Nov. 17-23, with an emphasis on educating consumers on how to avoid being a victim of utility scams. More information about Utility Scam Awareness Week is available at www.utilitiesunited.org [utilitiesunited.org].
The MPSC asks customers to be mindful to whom they provide their account numbers or personal information such as name, address, date of birth or Social Security number. If you suspect that that the call may be fraudulent, you should hang up and call your utility right away at the phone number on your most recent bill and ask to speak with a customer service representative.
Utility companies also do not:
- Endorse or require a prepaid debit card, gift card, Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency for payments;
- Collect payment at customers’ homes or businesses;
- Or ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information by phone.
- Utility companies do not use coercive tactics to try to get into your home. They require employees or contractors to always wear a company identification badge that the employees will be glad to show if asked.
- Utility customers who have mistakenly provided bank account information to someone they suspect might have been an impostor should call their bank and local police department. They also may ﬁle a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at www.michigan.gov/ag and the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357.