Utilities around the country are warning about a resurgence in a scam that preys on our fears of having our essential services disconnected.
Denise Banks is one of the latest victims.
She says she always pays her water bill.
But the other day, she says, "I received a phone call on my cell phone."
The caller claimed to be from her local waterworks and said she was about to be cut off for nonpayment.
"They started talking and said 'Denise Banks.' They knew my name," she said.
"They said, 'We're here to talk to you about your disconnect notice. There is someone outside waiting to disconnect your water,'" she said.
The caller demanded that she pay $235 via the money transfer app Zelle to keep her water on.
So Banks gave her bank information, and the money was gone within seconds.
"They automatically went into my personal checking and took all of my money," Banks said.
But there was no one waiting outside to turn off her water.
What to know about utility shutoff scams
Utilities will never call and threaten you with immediate shutoff unless you pay them right away.
Scammers know how to target our fears of disconnection, which is why it is so effective.
Josh Planos of the Better Business Bureau says the thought of losing a service you desperately need is enough for some people to hand over personal information.
"If you're faced with the possibility of having your heat turned off, or your AC turned off, you start convincing yourself of things that aren't real and aren't legitimate," he said.
He says utility scams like these are often weather-related, during a heat wave or cold snap.
"If you (the scam artist) know that a region is going to be more dependent on a utility, you target that region typically, and that's what scammers do."
He says with winter approaching, be extra cautious of:
- Phone calls about your heating or electric bill.
- Service workers showing up without an appointment
- Payment requests that are untraceable, such as gift cards, Zelle, or Venmo.
The Federal Trade Commission says utility companies will always notify you in writing before shutting off service.
Denise Banks, now begging her credit union to help restore her stolen funds, just wants to warn others.
"Even though you get those automated calls," she said, "just call back in and talk to them in person."
Make sure you look up your water or electric company's number and are talking to the real utility so you don't waste your money.
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