Consumer Alert: New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Warns Consumers of Recent Rash of Utility Phone Scams
NEWARK – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today warned consumers about a scam in which individuals posing as utility company employees are calling customers and threatening to turn off their electric and gas service if a payment is not made immediately over the phone.
Customers are then given a telephone number to call to make an immediate payment. Some customers are directed to pay with a pre-paid debit card, which is then drained of funds by the scammer. Other customers are asked to give their bank information to "take care of" the past due account and keep the power on.
Customers of Public Service Electric & Gas Company ("PSE&G") and Jersey Central Power & Light ("JCP&L") have reported receiving such calls in recent weeks.
"Fraudsters are posing as representatives of actual utilities that are providing services to customers," said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. "We are alerting New Jersey consumers to this ruse so that they can avoid falling prey to con-artists looking to take advantage of them."
Adding to customer confusion is the fact that the scammers often use Caller ID spoofing software to lead people to believe they are receiving a call from their utility company. Some even provide fake call-back numbers that include exact replicas of greetings and hold messages customers would hear when calling their utility company contact center.
"Frauds are getting more and more sophisticated, with these criminals posing as legitimate businesses and using technology to hide their identity," said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. 'Consumers who are suspicious of fraud should verify whether the person on the other end of the phone is actually calling from their utility company, by calling the number for the utility from their actual utility bill or from an independent source like the company website or phone book."
Beware of "representatives" who threaten to shut off service if a payment isn't made immediately. Utility companies will provide customers who are in arrears with written notices of a possible disconnection and how to prevent it. Moreover, utility companies will not request sensitive information such as social security numbers or bank account information. A utility company will also not demand that a customer use a particular form of payment.
- Consumers who receive scam phone calls should simply hang up. Do not provide any personal information or make any payment to the callers.
- Any customer who has doubts about the legitimacy of a call from their utility company — especially one in which payment is requested — should call the utility directly using a number from an old bill or the company website. Don't use the number that's on the Caller ID.
- File a complaint about the call with your local police department. Then report the incident to your utility company.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse,
can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer
Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846
(toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
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Facebook , and check our online calendar of upcoming
Consumer Outreach events.