AVANGRID — parent company of United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas, Connecticut Natural Gas and Berkshire Gas — has received multiple reports of scammers threatening to disconnect gas or electric service unless the customer makes an immediate payment over the phone using a prepaid debit card. While most customers recognize these calls as scams, a small number have been persuaded to make payments.
It’s an old swindle with some new twists. Caller ID may show the call is coming from the utility. In some cases, the perpetrators seem to have specific knowledge about the customers they’re calling. They may even provide a callback number with a recorded greeting similar to the energy company’s customer service line.
Typically, the caller informs the customer that a crew is on the way to shut off service unless an immediate payment is made. The perpetrator may tell the customer that the company had not received a recent payment or incorrectly processed a payment, so the customer must pay again. The scammer often demands the victim purchase a prepaid debit card (“Green Dot” is a common brand) to make the payment. This is a sure sign of a scam.
Perpetrators often target commercial establishments such as restaurants, sandwich shops or markets shortly before their busiest lunch or dinner periods. However, residential customers have also reported receiving calls.
Customers should verify all information before making payments over the phone, and should recognize the red flags:
· It doesn’t add up. UI, SCG, CNG and Berkshire Gas don’t call customers for payment if the account is in good standing.
· Timing and urgency: If a customer falls behind on payments, customers will receive a notice with a specific disconnection date, and will have an opportunity to pay or enter a payment arrangement before disconnection. The AVANGRID companies do not disconnect service on Fridays, weekends, state holidays, or any time the Customer Care Center is closed.
· Demanding a specific form of payment: AVANGRID companies accept a variety payment types, including credit cards, bank transfers and more. If a caller insists on payment via a prepaid debit card — especially a specific brand of prepaid card — it is a scam.
Here are steps customers can take to protect themselves:
· Check account status. Creating an online profile at the company’s website is a quick way to check account status. Or, call the company’s Customer Care Center at the number found on the bill or the company’s website. (Do not use callback numbers provided by unsolicited callers.) Representatives can verify account status and work with customers to resolve any issues.
· Check ID. Employees of all AVANGRID companies carry company-issued IDs. Ask for ID from any in-person visitor and call the company to verify their identity and nature of their business. Use the number on the company’s bill or website. Our employees are happy to comply with any identity verification request.
· Protect personal information. Customers should never share personal or financial information, including outstanding balances, without first verifying the credentials of the caller.
· Collect evidence. Customers who suspect a scam are urged to get the name and number from caller ID, if available, write down any call-back number provided, and take notes on what the caller said. This will help investigators work with authorities to shut down the scam.
· Report it. Customers should report the scam to the utility, local law enforcement, and the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov). This will help authorities shut down scams and prosecute the scammers.
· Enroll in AutoPay. The amount due is automatically deducted from a bank account each month, so customers will have no concerns about an outstanding balance. More information on this payment option is available on the company’s website.
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