By design, scammers want to create a ruse that is convincing enough to fool an unsuspected consumer. Still, no scam is executed perfectly and there will certainly be signs that a savvy consumer may notice that make the deception quickly fall apart.
To help interested consumers recognize common energy scams and act accordingly, USACEA has provided a short list of telltale signs that they are dealing with a scam artist.
A Deal That Seems Too Good to Be True
A good rule of thumb when doing business is that something that seems too good to be true probably is. Scammers may approach consumers with a service or promotion that sounds like a great deal on the surface, but this is just to lull a person into granting access to personal information or valuables. For this reason, USACEA recommends that consumers always remain skeptical of energy deals that seem much better than what other providers can offer. This is doubly true if the “seller” becomes defensive or vague when asked simple questions about the promotion or offering.
Unusual Payment Requests
Scammers may request payment in unusual forms. There are many ways that a payment request can be classified as unusual. For example, some scam artists may demand payment with a debit or credit card over the phone, and this is not something that a representative from any reputable energy company would do. Scammers may also request immediate payment in person which, again, is not a practice upheld by reputable energy companies.
USACEA scam research finds that the forms of payment requested can also be a sign that something is amiss. No energy company will request that a customer wire money to them, purchase a prepaid card or gift card, or send a money order to pay a past due bill. These requests are common among scammers because they have fewer protections when compared to other forms of payment.
Threats to Immediately Disconnect Utilities
USACEA frequently mentions that effective energy scams rely on creating a sense of urgency. When pressed to make decisions quickly, it is more likely that we will go with things without question. This is evident through the common deception where scammers will call pretending to be your energy provider threatening to disconnect your utilities if immediate payment is not made.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, know that it is very likely a scam. Energy providers do not hold your utilities for ransom and request immediate payment. The proper course of action for handling past due energy bills is sending a turn-off notice. This notification serves as a warning letter stating that the service will be ended if payment is not sent by the date specified on the form. Keep in mind that this is never immediate — these notices will have dates that are several days or even weeks out from the initial correspondence. Real, reputable energy companies work on timelines that have much more breathing room than scammers.
Requests for Personal Information
Requests for personal information such as credit card numbers, social security number, etc. are a surefire giveaway that you are dealing with a scammer. Energy companies will never ask for personal information over the phone unless the contact was initiated by the consumer and, even then, there are clear limits to what a representative will need to confirm. A common scam, the overpayment trick, involves scammers claiming that you have been overcharged and are eligible for a refund before asking for banking and other personal info. Taking your time to think helps in situations like these because you will realize that your provider should already have the information in your portal to make the reimbursement if that were the case.
As previously stated, scammers will often push consumers into hasty decisions because they know that we are much more likely to slip up and not confirm information in these situations. For this reason, if you ever feel like a representative is being unreasonably pushy or hasty in their approach, it is best to cautiously assume that it is a scam attempt. Best practices for energy companies seeking payment or sending someone to your residence involve alerting the consumer well beforehand and, typically, payment requests provide a reasonable window for consumers to settle their accounts. Energy companies want to work with you and will not push you to make decisions regarding your account hastily.
Something Seems Off
Trusting your gut is always important as a consumer, as scammers want to cloud your judgement hoping that you will make a mistake. Even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what is wrong, try to slow things down when something feels a bit off. Whether it be the way that you are contacted, the approach of the representative, etc., there may be things that just do not line up in terms of what you expect when dealing with a real energy company. Don’t ignore these feelings. Instead, try to confirm information and call your provider directly through their customer service number if you have any doubts.