Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and NW Natural are recognizing Utility Scam Awareness Day. Together they are urging community members to be aware of ongoing attempts to defraud utility customers.
Many utility customers throughout Oregon are being targeted by impostor utility scams. Scammers typically use phone and in-person tactics to target these customers. Scammers pose as electric or natural gas company employees, and threaten customers with disconnection if they fail to make an immediate payment — typically using a prepaid card or other non-traceable form of payment.
Scammers can be very convincing and often target those who are most vulnerable, including senior citizens and low-income communities. They also aim their scams at small business owners during busy customer service hours. However, with the right information, customers can learn to detect and report these predatory scams.
PGE, Pacific Power, and NW Natural urge customers to be aware of these signs of potential scam activity:
* Threat to disconnect: Scammers may make contact by phone and aggressively tell the customer his or her utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made — usually within less than an hour.
* Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct the customer to purchase a prepaid card — widely available at retail stores — and then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment to his or her utility company.
* Request for prepaid card: When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the prepaid funds and the victim’s money is gone.
In order to protect themselves, customers should know:
* Customers should never agree to immediate purchase of a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Legitimate utility companies offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including accepting payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail, or in person. Depending on delinquency, certain forms of payment may no longer be an option. However, payment via a prepaid card will never be demanded.
* If someone threatens immediate disconnection or shutoff of service, customers should contact their utility company immediately. Customers with delinquent accounts receive a disconnection notice in advance by mail. Companies never send a single notification one hour or less before disconnection. A legitimate utility company employee will allow the customer to call the office to discuss arrangements.
* If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should state that they are calling their utility company for verification. They should then call the number on their monthly bill or the company’s website, not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.
Customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud, or who feel threatened during contact with one of these scammers, should contact local law enforcement authorities.
PGE has information about how customers can protect themselves from scams at: https://www.portlandgeneral.com/our-company/news-room/fraud-alert
Pacific Power has customer education materials at: https://www.pacificpower.net/scam
NW Natural has information about customer protections at: 800-422-4012