Major energy scams are a growing problem in the United States, especially in deregulated markets like Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland. And while seniors and non-English speakers are frequent targets, the reality is anybody can fall for one. Scammers are experts at manipulation. They use fear and surprise to their advantage, to trick you into acting without thinking. The best way to stay safe is to familiarize yourself with their schemes and tactics.
Common Energy Scams
Scammers evolve their techniques over time, developing new scams once their old ones become too widely known. However, certain aspects remain consistent over time, which is why everyone should be familiar with the most popular scams used to gain your trust and steal your money.
Perhaps the most popular scam at the moment. In this scenario, the scammer calls, posing as a representative from your energy company, and claims your energy bill is overdue and that your service is about to be disconnected unless you pay them right away. Often, the scammer will demand payment with a gift card, prepaid debit card, cryptocurrency, or other non-traditional means.
Fake Discounts and Refunds
Similar to the example above, the scammer calls, posing as a representative from your energy company, and announces you’re eligible for a discount or refund. In some instances, they claim you’re eligible for some government program that will help pay your energy bills.
But, before they can deliver your money, the scammer claims they need some personal information, such as your provider account number or a copy of your energy bill. Other times, they’ll ask for financial information or your social security number. Once you’ve given it to them, they’ll either steal your identity or switch you to a new energy provider without your consent.
A scammer sends a realistic email or text message, posing as your energy provider. The phony message contains a call to action. For example, they might ask you to pay a bill or verify some personal information. When you click, you’re either taken to a fake website and asked to disclose sensitive data or infected with malware that steals personal data off your computer.
The scammer comes to your home after a power outage, pretending to be a utility company repairman. They promise to turn your power back on for a fee, normally in cash. Once you’ve paid, they leave and of course the power doesn’t come back on.
The scammer comes to your house and claims they need to inspect it on behalf of the utility company. In one variation, they pretend to be a private contractor, offering to perform a free energy audit or search for inefficiencies.
Once they’re inside, they carry out a fake inspection and then try to sell you a phony product, such as solar shielding, guaranteed to reduce your energy costs. Sometimes they act more like conventional burglars. Two people show up to your door and while one distracts you with the inspection, the other steals your belongings.
Signs of a Scam
Scammers like to use strongarm tactics, threatening to shut your power off unless they’re paid within an extremely short timeframe. Energy providers do not behave this way. If a bill is overdue, they send out multiple notices. They never shut off your power without advanced warning.
And while some utility companies accept payment over the phone, they don’t insist you pay with a wire transfer, gift card, or prepaid debit card (also known as Green Dot Cards). They prefer common forms of payment: checks, credit cards, debit cards, etc. Also, if your bill is overdue, they will be able to provide a detailed explanation for any and all charges. Scammers, by contrast, are fuzzy and evasive.
How to Protect Yourself
The best way to avoid becoming the victim of a major energy scam is to familiarize yourself with your provider, how much they charge, and the status of your account. If you suspect you’re dealing with a scammer:
- Verify Your Account Status. Before sending money, go online and login your account. Right away, you’ll know whether you’re behind on your payments.
- Don’t Give Them Your Bill. Your bill contains information a scammer could use to switch your provider without your knowledge. Your provider already has access to all the information on your bill, so there’s no reason for them to see it.
- Ask for Their ID. Utility workers are required to carry identification. When scammers come to your door, they’re normally dressed in hardhats and safety vests to help them look the part. Don’t be fooled. You’re entitled to see a utility worker’s ID and work permit. Don’t let anyone into your home or onto your property unless you know who they are.
- Hang Up and Call Your Energy Provider. If you receive a suspicious call about your power bill, hang up and call your provider’s customer service number. They’ll have all the details about your account and should be able to answer your questions. In the unlikely event you’re behind on your payments, the representative will tell you the fastest way to pay. Don’t trust any number given to you over the phone. Always call the number listed on your energy bill or your provider’s website.
- Stay Informed. Con artists are always thinking of new ways to rip you off, so make sure you’re up to date on their latest tricks. In the unfortunate event you do fall victim to a scam, report it right away. Going to the police is the best way to get your money back.
Shield Your Finances
Major energy scams can cost you hundreds of dollars, but with the help of the police, you can be made whole again. Unexpected repairs are harder to recover from. Fixing your heating system, cooling system, or electrical system can cost hundreds. Don’t fall victim to a breakdown.
By joining Agway, you’re automatically enrolled in our EnergyGuardTM program, which provides repair protection for your furnace, air conditioning, and electrical lines*. There are no service fees or deductibles. Everything is included in your supply cost. So don’t wait. Sign up today to save on repairs!
*Coverage depends on commodity purchased.