BY CHUCK SODERBERG
“Your electric bill is past due, and we will cut off power to your home in the next hour if you don’t pay us over the phone immediately!”
Have you ever received a threatening call like this from someone claiming to be from your local electric cooperative? Would you know what to do if you received a call like this?
This spring, several of Iowa’s electric cooperatives noticed increased activity from utility scammers contacting member-consumers in their service areas. These phone scammers would often appear to be calling from local numbers and claim to be from the local electric cooperative. Sometimes, the calls included prerecorded messages.
In almost all the calls, the scammers threatened the innocent person on the other end of the line, demanding immediate payment to prevent disconnection of electric service.
We want to remind readers that your local electric co-op would never contact you out of the blue to demand immediate payment or threaten immediate disconnection. If you receive a suspicious call, text or email from someone claiming to be from the co-op, please contact your electric co-op office directly by using the phone number on a recent bill or on the co-op’s website to verify the communication.
The best defense against a utility scammer is an educated consumer; follow these tips from Utilities United Against Scams to protect yourself from a potential scam.
Protect personal information
Never provide or confirm personal information (Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) or financial information (banking account information, debit or credit card information) to anyone initiating contact with you and claiming to be from your local electric co-op. Never give out information or provide any payment to any callers or unexpected individual(s) appearing at your door claiming to represent your co-op. Your local co-op will already have your relevant personal and account information.
Take your time
Do not be rushed. If you receive a call, text, email or visitor saying you have to pay your bill immediately to avoid disconnection, tell them you would like to verify that they are a legitimate co-op representative by calling a verified number for the local co-op office.
Beware if a representative exhibits impatience, annoyance or anger when you question their authority. While a scammer will discourage you from hanging up and calling the number on your utility bill, a real co-op representative will encourage you to do so for your own peace of mind.
Always ask questions
Ask the person contacting you to provide your account number, your last payment amount, date of payment and their employee identification number. If they are a legitimate utility representative, this information will be readily accessible. If not, hang up or shut the door, and call your utility directly to report the suspicious activity.
Contact your utility directly
If you receive a suspicious call or visit, please contact the local police and your electric co-op immediately. Share details that the scammer told you, which might aid in a possible criminal investigation.
For more tips, download a free copy of the Consumer’s Guide to Imposter Utility Scams. Remember, contact your local electric co-op directly if you receive a suspicious call, text, email or visit from someone claiming to represent the utility.
Chuck Soderberg is the executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.