How to avoid utility company telephone scams

A recent rash of phone calls from individuals claiming to be from various utility companies are sweeping the nation. These scoundrels attempt to fool their targets into believing that an immediate payment is necessary to prevent termination of services. If a person falls for it, that individual could lose hundreds of dollars to a scammer. Here’s a sample scenario of how a utility scammer might attempt to rip you off.

“Hello?” Sally asked after picking up the phone.

“Hello Ma’am,” the caller said. “My name is John, and I’m from XYZ Utility Company. How are you doing today?”

“Oh, good,” Sally replied.

“That’s good to hear,” John said. “I’m calling to let you know that you have a past due balance on your account of $243. We can take care of this balance right now with a debit or credit card and avoid any service interruptions. How would you like to pay?”

“I just made my payment the other week,” Sally replied. “I don’t understand. How do I owe $243? My last statement didn’t say anything about it.”

John’s voice hardened. “Ma’am, all I see on my computer screen is that you owe $243. That payment is required immediately, or we’ll be forced to cut off your gas. You don’t want to freeze in this cold weather do you?”

“Well, no, but…”

“It’s very simple,” John explained sternly. “Get your credit card and make this payment now or I’m going to cut off your service. Do you want to lose your heat?”

“No, please don’t do that. I’ll get my purse.”

“That’s a smart decision,” John said coldly.

In this situation, John is bullying Sally into making a payment. He threatens her well-being if she fails to make that payment by telling her he’s going to cut off her heat. He also ramps up the imminent threat of the action by telling her immediate payment is due to avoid the repercussion.

Through his forceful tone and the immediacy of his demand, John is attempting to deny Sally time for her to think about her next action or to call the real utility company and ask about the amount due. He will maintain this pressure and keep her on the phone until Sally either hangs up or gives in to John’s demand to make him go away.

Here’s how to deal with a utility company scammer:

  1. Never answer a call unless you know who is on the other end through caller ID. This not only helps avoid scammers, but it also blocks unwanted sales pitches.
  2. If you answer the phone and the caller attempts to bully you into an unwanted action, hang up. Don’t worry about offending the person. That person has already demonstrated he or she isn’t concerned about offending you by attempting to bully you into an action. It’s okay to hang up on a person attempting to cause you harm.
  3. If you’re not sure about a debt the person on the phone claims you owe, tell that person you’re going to call the utility company to verify the debt. Hang up immediately afterward. Don’t give the person time to talk you out of hanging up.
  4. Call the utility company using contact information from your statement and report the attempted scam.

If you’re on the phone with an individual you feel uncomfortable speaking with, hang up. You are not obligated to listen to a sales pitch, forceful demand, or someone who is rude or disrespectful to you. Get off the phone and stop that person’s harassing action. If you feel threatened, call the local police department and report that threat.