PHOENIX and TUCSON – With the holidays fast approaching, Arizona utilities are reminding their customers that professional scammers often use the hectic holiday season to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. According to local scam awareness experts, December and January typically have the greatest amount of scam activity. That’s why Arizona Public Service (APS), Salt River Project (SRP), Southwest Gas, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and UniSource Energy Services have joined with Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) to support International Fraud Awareness Week and recognize the seventh annual Utility Scam Awareness Day, which will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Utility Scam Awareness Day is an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on educating customers and exposing the tactics used by scammers. Fraud Awareness Week, Nov. 13-19, is a global effort to minimize the impact of fraud.
“Scammer tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but utility impostor scams are oftentimes as simple as a scammer posing as a customer’s local utility, calling and threatening to shut off their service unless they provide payment,” said Monica Martinez, executive director of UUAS. “Customers shouldn’t be afraid to end a call that they suspect is a scam. You can always end the call and dial the number on your utility’s bill or on the utility website to confirm. Most utilities will send overdue notices in the mail rather than by calling, and they always provide several notices that help educate customers about the options available to help them manage financial hardships.”
Arizona’s utilities stand ready to help customers who are facing challenges and need help with bill payment assistance. High-pressure tactics are never used to collect payments.
Here are some common signs of a scam:
- Threat to disconnect. Scammers often contact customers claiming their utility bill is past due and service will be shut off unless payment is made right away.
- Demand for immediate payment. Scammers often pressure customers to make payments immediately or face disconnection. The preferred method of payment for scammers are cash apps or prepaid debit cards. Con artists often instruct victims to purchase a prepaid card such as Green Dot, MoneyPak or Vanilla at a nearby store. Customers are then asked to call the impostors back to provide them with the prepaid card information.
- Request for prepaid card. When the customer calls back, the scammer asks the customer for the prepaid card’s PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds. In an instant, the victim’s money is gone.
Ways to Protect Yourself:
- Never purchase a prepaid card. Arizona utilities never require payment via a prepaid debit card, gift card or form of cryptocurrency.
- Don’t fall for threats. Hang up the phone, delete the text, delete the email or shut the door if you receive disconnection threats. Customers with delinquent accounts receive advanced notification, never a single notice one hour or less before disconnection.
- Call your utility to verify. If there is ever a question about the validity of an email, website or person claiming to be a utility representative, call your utility directly to verify. Never use the call-back phone number provided by the email, website or person in question to verify billing or account information. Also, some phone scammers can mirror the actual name and number of your utility on your caller ID – a technique known as spoofing. It might look real, but don’t fall for it. If someone from a disguised number is demanding immediate payment with a prepaid card, it is a scam.
- Make sure you have the correct phone number. Find your utility’s phone number on your bill or on the company’s official website.
- Protect your personal information. Never share personal or credit card information with an unverified source. Scammers are sneaky and try to obtain private information.
- Call 911. Customers should call 911 if they ever feel they are in physical danger.
In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is warning Americans of an increase in scam text messages, also known as smishing. According to the FCC, consumer complaints about unwanted text messages have dramatically risen in recent years.
Here’s how you can protect yourself from scam text messages:
- Turn on spam filters for your iPhone or Android, if available.
- Use a trusted source to verify the text.
- Be aware that text message scams often include a barcode or QR code.
- Never respond to, click links or open attachments in messages you were not expecting.
- Delete unsolicited text messages.
In recent years, utility customers have reported an increase in attempts by scammers seeking payments and personal and financial information while threatening service interruptions. Arizona’s utility companies will never ask for payments using a pre-paid debit card, gift card, cryptocurrencies, or third-party digital payment mobile applications. Utilities also will provide multiple notices before initiating service interruptions.
Customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened during contact with a scammer should contact their utility provider and law enforcement authorities. The Federal Trade Commission also provides tips on how to protect personal information and recognize impostor scams.
UUAS, a group consortium of more than 150 electric, water, and natural gas utilities and their respective trade associations, shares information on common scams and new scam tactics used by utility impostors. UUAS’ work and the help of customer reporting have successfully taken nearly 13,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers against utility customers out of operation.
Visit www.utilitiesunited.org for information and tips on how customers can protect themselves from impostor utility scams. Follow along with UUAS on Twitter and Facebook, and join the conversation by using #StopScams.
Arizona Public Service: APS serves more than 1.3 million homes and businesses in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Customers can visit aps.com/support for financial assistance options and ways to save on their bills or call the APS Customer Care Center. Advisors are available to support in English and Spanish 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 602-371-7171 or 1-800-253-9405.
Salt River Project: SRP is a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility and the largest provider of electricity in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving more than 1 million customers. SRP is also the metropolitan area’s largest supplier of water, delivering about 800,000 acre-feet annually to municipal, urban and agricultural water users. SRP employees are available 24/7/365 for any customer needs or concerns. Simply call 602-236-8888 or visit srpnet.com/heretohelp and srpnet.com.
Southwest Gas: Southwest Gas Corporation is a dynamic energy company committed to exceeding the expectations of our over two million customers throughout Arizona, California and Nevada by providing safe and reliable service while innovating sustainable energy solutions to fuel our communities’ growth.
Tucson Electric Power and UniSource Energy Services: TEP serves more than 438,000 electric customers in Southern Arizona. UniSource provides natural gas and electric service to about 256,000 customers in Northern and Southern Arizona. Both TEP and UniSource stand ready to help customers facing financial hardships due to the pandemic. TEP, UniSource and their Tucson, Arizona-based parent company, UNS Energy Corporation, are subsidiaries of Fortis Inc., which owns utilities that serve more than 3 million customers across Canada and in the United States and the Caribbean.
APS: Jill Hanks, Jill.Hanks@aps.com, 602-250-3040
SRP: Kathleen Mascareñas, Kathleen.Mascarenas@srpnet.com, 602-236-2585
Southwest Gas: Amy Washburn, Amy.Washburn@SWgas.com, 602-395-4090
TEP and UniSource: Joseph Barrios, firstname.lastname@example.org, 520-884-3725