BY ERIN CAMPBELL
With all the confusion and uncertainty in our world today, scammers are taking advantage of these circumstances to target consumers by phone, email and text. These con artists claim to be from your local utility and the caller ID on your phone or their email address may even look legitimate.
Consumers in good standing with their utilities are often caught off-guard by the aggressive tone of these impersonators. They will usually speak with a sense of urgency, ensuring consumers do not have time to ask questions or verify their claims.
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 financial information (banking account information, debit or initiating contact with you and claiming to be from your local electric co-op. Never give out information or provide any payment type to any callers or unexpected individuals 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 peace of mind.
Always ask questions
Ask the person contacting you to provide you with your account number, last payment amount, date of payment and their employee identification number. If he or she is 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 electric cooperative 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.
Erin Campbell is the director of communications for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.