South Carolina utilities, including the state's electric cooperatives, have joined with South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) and the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) for Utility Scam Awareness Day (November 16, 2022) to warn consumers about utility imposter scams as consumers turn on their heat for the winter.
Utility imposter scams can happen in-person or over the phone and come in a lot of shapes and sizes. Consumers have reported seeing scammers dressed like a representative of a utility company, going door-to-door and demanding payment in prepaid cards or else power would be shut off. The scammer may call and claim the consumer needs a new meter or they are late on their payments. Whatever form the scam takes, the red flags are the same. The top red flags of a utility imposter scam are:
- Asking for payment in prepaid debit, gift card, money transfer, payment app or cryptocurrency. No real utility company will ever ask a consumer to pay with anything other than direct forms of payment like a bank account or credit card. If someone claiming to be a utility says you must pay in an uncommon form of payment, it’s a scam. Every time. No matter what they say.
- Use scare tactics or threaten you into paying ASAP. Often a scammer will warn the consumer they are late with payment and if they don’t pay immediately, their services will be shut off. Utilities are required to provide consumers with at least 10 days written notice before their service is shut off and a second notice a few days prior.
- Cold-call and ask for you to verify personal information. A cold-call is when you receive an unsolicited visit or telephone call made by someone trying to obtain payment or information for a service. If you receive a cold-call from anyone asking to verify private info like your account numbers/balances, Social Security number, date of birth, etc, hang up and directly call your utility company.
Consumers should also be wary of their caller ID’s as scammers will “spoof” the number they are calling from, which causes the customer’s phone to display a false caller ID. Often, the scammer will “spoof” a local number, perhaps even using the utility’s standard customer service number.
If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of a caller, hang up immediately and call your utility’s customer service center. To find the direct number for your electric cooperative, click here.
If you suspect or experience a scam, notify your local law enforcement agency. To report a scam or for more information on defending against scams call SCDA's Identity Theft Unit at 1 (844) TELL DCA (835-5322) or visit consumer.sc.gov and click the Identity Theft Unit tab.