It’s been frigid enough lately that we wouldn’t want to think about what it would be like for the heat to be turned off. Scammers know that, and that’s why this is their busy season.
Aaron Ruby, of Dominion Energy, says the holiday season and the winter months are prime time of year for people to make scam calls about heating bills, and he details the red flags to look for.
“Scammers will frequently call a customer and demand payment with a credit card or debit card on the phone, which Dominion Energy will never do,” Ruby says.
Scammers will often tell the person they’re calling that they’re way behind on the electricity bill and need to pay up immediately, either by credit card or debit card, over the phone. He says he’s even heard of scammers telling a customer they have an hour, or a half-hour, to go to a convenience store to buy a prepaid gift card and pay that way.
That’s a scam, Ruby says. “Those are all things that Dominion Energy never demands that a customer do over the phone. Dominion Energy is never going to call a customer on the phone and demand that they make a payment right then and there, with any form of payment.”
His advice: “Hang up. Don’t provide any information. Don’t provide your account information, your payment information, any other personal information. Just hang up.”
Don’t Trust the Number
Ruby adds that scammers are sophisticated enough that your caller ID might show that the call is coming from a Dominion Energy customer assistance number. It still isn’t.
“We will never call a customer on the phone, demand payment, and threaten to disconnect them if they don’t make the payment,” Ruby says.
The next step is to double-check with the utility company, Ruby says.
“If a scammer calls and says, ‘You owe Dominion Energy $500,’ hang up the phone, log into your account online, or look up our legitimate customer service number, and verify your current account balance. When is that payment due? And if it’s any different than what you heard from the person that called you, then it’s likely that it was a scammer.”
He says scammers are especially likely to target elderly and low-income customers, as well as small businesses during peak business hours when people are likely to be “rushed and distracted.”
Ruby says the scams go further than utility companies. He himself will take a call from a doctor’s office, a cell provider — “really anyone” — listen to them, hang up and call the customer service number. “That’s a general good best practice to verify the information on your own. And don’t just trust that the caller is a legitimate caller.”
Ways to Stay Warm
If you really are in arrears to Dominion, Ruby says, the company has ways to help out.
“We’ve got bill payment assistance programs, where we provide up to $600 a year for heating assistance,” Ruby says. Call 211 for more information.
You can also take a virtual home energy assessment that can show you ways to cut down on energy usage, and you might be eligible for free upgrades that will save energy and money.
And eligible customers can either pay half of what they owe and spread the rest over six months, or get their bills based on their average use over the past 12 months, so as to guard against the kind of spikes that are common in winter and summer, Ruby says.
Feature image, stock.adobe.com
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