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Don’t fall victim to energy scams

By T.J. Kirk

Across the U.S., cases of fraud and identity theft are at all-time highs. In 2014 alone, there were over 40,000 cases of phone- or utilities-related fraud, or 118 cases every day. Energy scams are becoming more sophisticated and prevalent, and it’s possible for anyone to be tricked by them. The best way to stay safe is to be aware of some of the common ploys, be suspicious of free energy claims and to contact your electric cooperative if anything seems amiss.

Phone scams

In summer of 2012, thousands of consumers from coast-to-coast, including members at electric cooperatives, fell prey to a telephone scam promising bogus help with energy bills. The criminals claimed that President Obama had authorized a special federal program to pay electric bills. Then, they asked each victim to provide personal information, such as a bank routing number or a Social Security number to receive the payment. Although this particular scam has run its course, scammers are always coming up with new stories to steal consumers’ personal information.

Email

We’ve all come to realize that today is not the day a Nigerian prince gives us his fortune, but many people don’t realize how much more sophisticated scam emails have become. Many of these emails will mimic emails from legitimate sources and contain personal information such as your name, address, bank name and more. Unfortunately this information is not difficult to find and can make otherwise sensible people send back sensitive information or click a link in the email. If you open an email that you suspect is a scam or asks for private information, you can always call your utility to confirm its authenticity. Just don’t click the link first.

Door to door

Even in the digital age, there are still scams being perpetuated face to face. Typically these scams target the elderly or people who may not speak English well, who may be easier to intimidate. Claiming to be from the utility (or associated in some way), they will tell you that something is wrong (bill past due, equipment missing or broken) and that you need to pay them money immediately or be disconnected. Electric cooperatives do not demand payment like this in the field and do not go to a member’s house unless there is a scheduled appointment. Again, if you want to check if the person at your door is a utility employee, call your electric cooperative.

Product scams

We’ve all been taught that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is almost always the case with “miracle” devices that claim to reduce energy use without providing a sensible explanation for how they work. In May 2008, the Texas Office of Attorney General took legal action against a firm offering what it called the Xpower Energy Saver or Mega Power Saver – a $300 small gray box that plugged into an electrical outlet at your home and promised to cut electric bills by 10 percent. Testing by the University of Texas in Austin revealed these devices couldn’t deliver their promised savings. In addition, the lab revealed that the products are, in reality, ordinary capacitors. Capacitors are regularly used by electricians, and they can be purchased for less than $20. While this gadget is now off the market, you can be sure that similar products will spring up to take its place.

Avoid energy scams with these tips:

  • Always guard your personal accounting and banking information, and never share this information with family, friends or strangers.
  • Remember – your electric cooperative will NEVER call and ask for sensitive personal information over the phone.
  • Only use methods authorized by your electric cooperative to pay your bills.
  • Cooperative employees visit a home only in response to a service request. If a service call has not been scheduled or requested, do not allow the person to enter your house.
  • When an employee does respond to a service call, check identification and make sure the service truck is clearly marked with the proper logo.

By following these steps, you can avoid falling for many common energy scams, and if you are looking to save money on your energy bill, or understand your bill better, contact your local electric cooperative. They can help you find real ways to save.

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Co-op members targeted in scam

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives remind Tennessee residents to be on alert for a telephone scam that continues to plague utility consumers.

Scam artists call a home or business posing as a co-op or utility employee and threaten to shut off service unless the consumer provides immediate payment using a reloadable debit card, prepaid gift card or online payment service like PayPal.

“The calls sound official, and the caller ID may even display the utility name,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “This is particularly harmful to consumers because there is no way to track or recover the money.”

Officials stress that your local electric co-op will:

  • NEVER call members to request credit card, banking or other financial information over the telephone.
  • NEVER call members threatening immediate disconnection unless a payment is made. Some co-ops do give members with a delinquent account a courtesy call prior to disconnection, but this only occurs after multiple notices have been sent to the member.
  • NEVER ask to enter your home unless you initiate the request for co-op personnel to perform a specific service. Co-ops do this only by appointment and with a member’s prior knowledge.

“We are asking co-op members to be wary of any phone calls,” Callis says. “If in doubt, hang up immediately and look up your electric cooperative’s phone number. Call it directly to be certain you are dealing with an official representative of the cooperative.”

Law enforcement officials are looking into reported fraud cases, but consumers are encouraged to protect themselves by being alert and aware. “It’s important for Tennesseans to be cautious and vigilant,” Says Steve Majchrzak, Deputy Commissioner and Acting Consumer Affairs Director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. “Scam artists can find their way into your home and pocketbook through the phone. The best defense against this type of theft is to take a guarded approach to any unknown caller and always do your research to ensure the caller’s authenticity.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Learn more at tnelectric.org.

 

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Media Contact:
Trent Scott | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Co-op members targeted by scam

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are warning residents to be on the alert for a telephone scam targeting utility consumers.

Scam artists call a home or business posing as a co-op or utility employee and threaten to shut off service unless the consumer provides immediate payment.

“The calls sound official,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “They claim to be with the local electric cooperative, and many times the caller ID even displays the name of the utility.”

Co-op officials say that the scam is easy to recognize. Callis says electric co-ops will not call members and threaten immediate disconnection. Typically, multiple written notices are sent to delinquent accounts prior to disconnection.

Co-op leaders stress that members who receive any call regarding immediate payment of a bill should contact their local co-op directly.

“We are asking co-op members to be wary of any phone calls,” says Callis. “If in doubt, hang up and look up your electric cooperative’s phone number. Call them directly to be certain you are dealing with an official representative of the cooperative.”

Law enforcement officials are looking into reported fraud cases, but consumers are encouraged to protect themselves by shredding or destroying old utility statements, verifying the ID of any callers and reporting suspicious calls to law enforcement. “No one can protect you from being victimized better than you,” Callis says.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Learn more at tnelectric.org.

 

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Contact:

Trent Scott | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Scams hit co-op members

April has seen an increase in attempts to scam electric co-op members. Two recent incidents involved individuals claiming to work for electric cooperatives. Using that trust, the thieves then stole money and property from the members.

Electric co-ops remind members that their employees or contractors will always have identification, drive marked vehicles and will never ask members for private information.

Co-op members are encouraged to contact their local co-op if they notice any suspicious activity or if they wish to confirm the identity of anyone claiming to be a representative of their electric co-op.

National utility scam strikes Tennessee

NASHVILLE – A widespread scam that claims to pay utility bills has made its way to Tennessee. Two of Tennessee’s rural electric cooperatives reported incidents involving the scam on Monday, July 9. Tennessee’s rural electric cooperatives are warning members to be aware of a bill-paying scam that asks them to disclose Social Security and bank routing numbers.

Scammers claim electric consumers can have their utility bills paid under a federal government program. No such program exists.

The solicitations have been made door-to-door, online and by phone. Members are asked for personal information and then given fake bank account numbers to use for making a payment on their utility bill.

Members are urged to alert police if they’re contacted about the scam.