BBB on Homes: Watch out for utility scams

Is your household looking to save money right now? Many consumers are looking to cut costs during this time, but no matter how COVID-19 has impacted your finances, be sure to say “no” to this utility scam. This summer, the Better Business Bureau has received reports of con artists impersonating internet, cable TV, or electricity company representatives. They claim to offer a great deal or rebate on your bill, but it’s really a way to trick unsuspecting customers into shelling out hundreds of dollars.

This scam follows a general pattern. First, you receive an unsolicited call offering you reduced rates on your bill. Speaking to the “customer service representative” may be quite convincing. Many scammers will even try to use the same hold music as big-name companies and duplicate a company’s caller menu.

When speaking with the representative, they seem very professional. The caller explains that the company is offering a special promotion. If you pay several months up front, you can receive a discounted monthly rate or free perks, like premium cable channels. In another version of the con, the caller claims that you overpaid on a recent bill and are due for a rebate.

Then, things get fishy. Instead of using the payment information your cable company already has, they ask you to purchase prepaid debit cards to make the up-front payment. Don’t fall for this con. If you purchase the cards and send the information to the caller, your money will be lost for good.

The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas offers the following tips on how to avoid a utility impersonation con:

 Never make payments with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Scammers prefer these payment methods because there is nothing you can do to get your money back. Remember, legitimate companies almost always accept checks and credit cards as the primary means of payment.

 If someone shows up at your doorstep, verify their identity. If you weren’t expecting a visit, ask the person for their ID and then call your cable company to verify that they are an employee.

 When in doubt, verify special deals with your utility company. If you are unsure about a promotional offer you’ve been presented with, get the customer service number from the company’s official website or your latest bill. Call the company directly to make sure the offer is real.

If you’ve been the victim of a similar scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. You may visit BBBHouston.org to file a report. Your first-hand experience can help other consumers recognize scammers’ tactics before it is too late.

The Better Business Bureau is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Visit www.bbbhouston.org or call 713-868-9500. Leah Napoliello is senior director of Investigative Services with the BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas. Send questions to Leah Napoliello, Better Business Bureau, 1333 West Loop South, Suite 1200, Houston, TX 77027, or e-mail [email protected] Include your mailing address and phone number.

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