BPU joins group that fights against utility scams

The Board of Public Utilities has joined a group, Utilities United Against Scams association, that is raising public awareness of scams that have targeted utility customers.

David Mehlhaff, chief communications officer for the BPU, said BPU is the first municipal utility in the region to join this group, which also includes regional companies such as Westar and KCPL.

“It’s a way of sharing information,” Mehlhaff said.

Utility scammers are widespread, and have gone nationwide, so utilities now are sharing information about it and working with law enforcement to fight scammers, he said.

A lot of scam attempts have been made on BPU customers in the past several years, he said. BPU has started a page on its website warning customers about scams.

“We only had one customer I know of who ever fell for it,” Mehlhaff added. The BPU has tried hard to send out information warning customers about scams.

There are some warning signs of a scam.

“The utility never calls up and demands payment,” Mehlhaff said. Scammers have software to make telephone numbers look like they are coming from the BPU, but they are really from somewhere else, he said.

Elderly customers, Spanish-speaking customers and small businesses have been targeted in the past, he added.

Scammers may tell them their utilities may be cut off unless they get a prepaid money card and send it to them.

“We don’t call,” Mehlhaff said about the BPU. “We never call a customer demanding payment. We never make a cold call. We may call a customer back who called and wants to make a payment arrangement.”

The Utilities United Against Scams includes more than 100 utilities in North America that are joining together to fight scams.

Residents are advised never to give credit or debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or savings account numbers to anyone that comes to their home, calls, texts or sends an email requesting this information about their utility bill, without verifying that it is an authentic BPU call. Customers may ask to see company identification or call BPU’s customer service department, 913-573-9190, to verify information.

Residents also should be suspicious if they receive an email about their utility bill, if they have not requested online communications with BPU.

Customers using BPU’s online bill pay system should always make online payments directly through www.bpu.com.

Residents should never provide personal information through suspicious links or attachments.

Customers who suspect they have been victims of fraud, or who feel threatened during contact with a scammer, should contact local law enforcement authorities.

For more information, visit www.bpu.com/forhome/avoidfraud.

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