Energy companies, Better Business Bureau warn against utility scams

  • The Better Business Bureau warns people not to give out their personal information or utility account information unless they have initiated the call due to scammers. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2021 4:52:13 PM

Energy customers are warned not to get burned as temperatures drop this winter.

Eversource and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) expect to see a rise in utility scams during the coming weeks as more scammers become increasingly sophisticated in the way they find unique schemes to take advantage of people.

Scam artists — often sounding legitimate — may threaten to shut off electric service immediately unless instant payment is made, or could claim the customer overpaid a utility bill and request personal bank account or credit card information to give a refund. Penni Conner, executive vice president of customer experience and energy strategy at Eversource, said someone suggesting you pay a bill immediately with a prepaid debit card should be an automatic “red flag.”

“Scammers are constantly changing their tactics to take advantage of unsuspecting customers and prey on people when they feel most vulnerable, like during the holidays,” Conner said in a statement. “That’s why we’re warning customers to beware — if they get a call or text and something doesn’t seem right, don’t panic and don’t pay. And remember, we will never threaten to disconnect service or demand instant payment over the phone.”

Also, “phishing” or “smishing” are increasingly common due to the popularity of smartphone use. Phishing is the practice of sending fraudulent emails purporting to be from reputable companies to deceive people into revealing personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. Smishing is the same practice, except done via text messages.

“A common tactic scammers use is creating fear and panic to trick utility customers into making a hasty payment, or providing sensitive personal information,” Paula Fleming, the Better Business Bureau’s chief marketing and sales officer for Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Impostors will typically contact customers with a telephone call claiming to be a representative from the utility company. Often, they will claim payment is overdue and that the utility will shut off power within the hour if the bill is not paid immediately. We want to make sure consumers know how to spot the red flags of utility scams so that they can protect themselves if they’re targeted.

“Customers should never give out their personal information or utility account information,” she continued, “unless they have initiated the call and know the identity of the company they are speaking with. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and call your utility back directly.”

National Grid is also warning against reported scam attempts concerning residential and business customers. The company encourages customers to always verify the identity of a caller claiming to represent National Grid.

According to the company’s website, National Grid representatives will never threaten immediate service termination and will not seek payment if your account is current. National Grid also does not accept payment by wire transfer or prepaid card, and callers will always identify themselves and be able to provide the final five digits of your National Grid account number when asked for them.

National Grid customers who believe they have fallen victim to a scam should call customer service at 1-800-322-3223 (Massachusetts Electric) or 1-800-233-5325 (Massachusetts Gas).

Eversource stresses people can avoid being victimized by staying mindful of potential scams. Eversource representatives never demand instant payment over the phone, don’t require the use of prepaid debit cards like MoneyPak, Vanilla or Reloadit, and never request customers meet at a payment center such as a Walmart or Big Y supermarket to make a payment.

According to a statement from Eversource, customers should not provide personal financial or account information to any unsolicited person on the phone, at the door or online, even if they seem legitimate. Customers scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment receive written notice that includes information on how to maintain their service. Customers can also verify they are speaking with an Eversource representative by asking for basic information about their account, such as the name on it, the account address or the past-due balance.

Eversource urges anyone with doubts about the legitimacy of a call, visit or offer to contact the company directly at 1-800-592-2000. Visit eversource.com for more information on how to protect your personal information and avoid becoming a victim of utility scams.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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