Utility companies warn of scams around holiday season

(Stock Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Local utility companies want residents to watch out for scammers around the holiday season.

They say scammers posing as utility company workers will call victims or even show up at their door.

Wednesday is Utility Scam Awareness Day and local companies are using the day to help their customers avoid becoming the next victims.

Scammers are preying on vulnerable people, the elderly and people struggling to pay their bills.

Representatives at Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Northwest Natural are working together to warn people.

They say customers should watch for threats to disconnect service. Scammers will typically call people and aggressively tell them the bill is past due and service will immediately be disconnected.

The person then often becomes confused and the scammer makes a request for immediate payment. Typically, they want a pre-paid card, which can be purchased at any retailer.

Utility companies will never ask for payment in the form of a pre-paid card.

Customers with delinquent accounts receive a disconnection notice in the mail and there’s a process before utility companies ever disconnect anyone.

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.

PGE has more information about how customers can protect themselves against fraud on their website.

Pacific Power also has educational materials on their websites.

For NW Natural customer protections information, call 1-800-422-4012.

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