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New Utility Scams Capitalize on COVID

shapecharge | istock.com

A spate of scams is targeting utility customers, as fraudsters alter their strategies and seek to capitalize on vulnerabilities created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of an electric cooperative in Wisconsin recently reported two unique tactics, according to a report from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

One involved a call from a bogus representative of an investor-owned utility claiming to have taken over the member’s account and demanding immediate payment or disconnection. The member wasn’t fooled and contacted the co-op to warn others.

This scam comes on the heels of an earlier trick in which a swindler claiming to be with the co-op told a member that she had overpaid her utility bill and to get the refund she was due, she’d need to provide her financial information. The member didn’t fall for the scam, hung up the phone and notified the co-op.

Members need to stay vigilant because scammers have adapted their tactics over the past two years to exploit consumer vulnerabilities and changes in habits created by the pandemic.

The increased use of technology paired with concerns about the economy have created a breeding ground for scams, according to Utilities United Against Scams.

Numbers from the Federal Trade Commission show that consumer fraud in general spiked during the past two years.

In 2021, about a quarter of all reported fraud losses stemmed from scams originating on social media. Those scams resulted in $770 million in total losses, which is an 18-fold increase from 2017, according to the agency’s latest Consumer Protection Data Spotlight report.

SOMOS, the entity that manages toll-free numbers in the U.S., tracks when those numbers are used fraudulently. They often work with UUAS to combat scams, and their collaboration has shut down more than 12,000 phone numbers since 2017.

If you receive a suspicious message—whether a phone call, text, social media message or email—regarding your electric cooperative account, please contact BEC immediately.


Posted: 7/22/2022 1:13:54 PM
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