Watch out for utility scams during the holiday season

As the holidays approach, the Board of Public Utilities is reminding customers to be aware of scammers.

“The utility never calls up and demands immediate payment,” said David Mehlhaff, BPU spokesman.

Recently, a woman at a small business in Kansas City, Kansas, reported receiving a call from a scammer who said she owed money on a utility bill. Suspicious, she hung up and then found out it was a scam call.

“They tend to get a lot more aggressive the closer we get to the holidays, looking to get someone unsuspecting,” Mehlhaff said.

He advised customers who receive these calls asking for money for customers’ utility bills to hang up and call the BPU’s customer service telephone number at 913-573-9190.

Customers who are behind on their BPU bills will get a past due bill notice by the mail, Mehlhaff said. Or if they are signed up for online bill pay, they will receive an email or text letting them know of an outstanding balance.

Unfortunately, because scammers sometimes use “spoofing” technology, it may look like the BPU’s phone number on the customer’s caller ID, but it’s not, he said. The call could be coming from anywhere, he said.

The BPU advises customers not to give out their personal information over the phone, as that is a red flag, he said.

“We’ve been fortunate, we’ve only had one fall for it over the past few years,” Mehlhaff said. “We’re getting the word out to people to hang up and call us.”

Sometimes customers forget whether they have paid their bill or not, and call the utility, letting them know they got a phone call.

“We tell them it’s probably a scam,” Mehlhaff said.

He said utilities nationwide are joining together to fight against scammers.

The BPU is a member of Utilities United Against Scams, a group of more than 100 utilities that shares information to stop scams. There is no cost to the BPU.

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

The Utilities United Against Scams recently was given the Toll Free Industry’s Fraud Fighter Award for its advocacy and awareness campaign to stop scams.

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