Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.
Utility scams are fraudulent acts conducted by profit-motivated criminals who impersonate utility company employees to steal money or valuables from victims. Sometimes, these criminals will call victims and attempt to convince them that they have an overdue utility bill requiring immediate payment. The perpetrators will threaten to immediately shut off or disconnect the utility in question unless victims submit payment via a bank account withdrawal, credit card, or prepaid debit card or gift card. To lend credence to this scam, perpetrators may even spoof their caller-ID to display a utility company’s primary phone number on the victim’s phone. If victims provide their personal and financial account information, the scammers will then use it to commit financial fraud.
In another version of this scam, perpetrators may arrive in person at the victim’s door wearing a utility company uniform and demand entry into his or her home. To convince victims to comply, they may claim that there is a dangerous utility-related situation within the home that needs to be investigated immediately. They may also claim that they need to perform an unscheduled repair on utility lines or appliances. However, once they are permitted to enter, they will likely rob or physically attack their victims.
These scammers attempt to scare victims into complying with their demands through emotional manipulation. By threatening to turn off electrical or gas service during the cold winter months or claiming that there is a dangerous gas leak in the home, these scam artists try to intimidate victims to prevent them from taking the time to thoroughly assess the situation. However, it is important to take a moment and think before acting on these types of demands.
To reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a utility scam, be sure to familiarize yourself with the following prevention and mitigation strategies:
If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be a representative of your utility company, do not provide the caller with any personal or financial information, including utility account numbers. Instead, hang up and call the utility company directly using one of their official phone numbers to confirm the legitimacy of the call.
Remember that utility companies will always send correspondence by mail to alert customers about billing or payment issues. Also, no legitimate company will ever request or require payment in the form of prepaid debit or gift cards.
If someone claiming to be a utility company representative knocks on your door and demands immediate entry into your home, do not grant them access until you have called the utility company in question to verify the identity of the individual. Also, call the police immediately if the person in question threatens you or tries to prevent you from calling the company.
Report all utility scam attempts to your local police department and your local FBI Field Office.