Beware of Scammers Posing as Utility Workers

A man knocking at a door

Recently, utility companies in the United States have issued warnings to their customers as impostor scams become increasingly sophisticated. These companies are reminding customers that scammers are clever, resourceful, and persistent, and it is important to take certain precautions to avoid falling victim to these scams.

For instance, in January 2024, residents of San Diego County were alerted to be on high alert for impostors posing as water agency workers. These impostors would knock on doors and attempt to gain entry into homes under the guise of testing water quality or making sales pitches. They may also try to collect bill payments using credit cards or pressure residents into purchasing unnecessary water treatment products or water line insurance.

The San Diego County Water Authority has warned that these impostors may operate both in person and over the phone. They may work in pairs, with one individual engaging the resident in conversation while the other surveys the home for valuables.

"Utility scams can be very financially harmful to customers, and sometimes these scams are very sophisticated. That’s why we want to make sure that our community stays informed about the ways they can spot and report possible scams," said Kerry Lore, Vice President of Customer Care at El Paso Electric in Texas.

Scammers usually use phone, in-person, and online methods to target utility customers. They often pretend to be employees of electric, water, or natural gas companies and scare customers by saying their services will be cut off if they don't make an immediate payment - usually with a prepaid card or another untraceable form of payment.

Today, I will focus on the in-person method, which I believe to be the most perilous. By allowing scammers into your home, you are potentially putting your safety at risk. The in-person approach involves scammers arriving at your doorstep under false pretenses, such as:

Claiming to restore power following a natural disaster

You need to be vigilant during a service outage, as scammers may attempt to take advantage of the situation. These con artists may impersonate utility workers by wearing vests and carrying walkie-talkies, which can be easily purchased online. They may approach you offering to put you on a preferred list for quicker service restoration or claim that a reconnection fee is required to restore service.

Utility companies have reported an increase in these fraudulent activities during crisis situations. The goal of these criminals is to deceive individuals into providing personal information or handing over money. You need to be aware that legitimate utility companies do not request reconnection fees during crisis situations, nor do they provide priority service restoration.

Moreover, utility employees will not come to your door demanding money. This is not a practice employed by reputable utility companies.

Investigating emergency leaks or inspecting equipment on your property

Beware of scammers who may come to your door pretending to be utility workers, claiming there is an emergency gas leak or a need to inspect new equipment. These individuals often target areas where utility companies are installing new meters, such as smart meters. Following the installation, scammers will approach customers and demand payment for a supposed double-check of the meter, falsely presenting it as a safety concern.

Making sales pitches

This fraudulent scheme involves, for example, a salesperson arriving at your doorstep, offering to switch your energy supplier and promoting their product or claiming to have a better rate than your current supplier. You may be wondering how scammers are able to switch your energy supplier. Well, Maryland is a choice state, allowing consumers to select a different energy supplier. 

However, scammers may disregard your refusal and proceed to switch your supplier without your consent. They may falsely identify themselves as representatives from your utility company or the government, requesting to view your bill to determine your eligibility for discounts. 

By obtaining your account number from the bill, they are able to make the unauthorized switch. Under no circumstances should you provide these individuals with a copy of your bill. In some cases, the individual at your door may attempt to create a sense of urgency or even threaten to remain on your property until they have seen your bill. Remember, your home is your sanctuary, and you have the right to simply close your door.

Testing water quality

Beware of fake water quality inspectors! One of the most recent scams affecting residents across the United States involves individuals posing as water quality inspectors from local utilities. These imposters may approach you under the guise of needing to check your water or install a filter in your home. 

In more alarming cases, scammers may even go as far as impersonating legitimate Water Utility employees, visiting your residence or business with the intention of obtaining credit card information, setting up fraudulent payments, pressuring you into paying for unnecessary services, or gaining unauthorized access to your property.

You need to be aware that your local Water Utility will never request payment to be made to a specific individual or at a specific location, nor will their employees visit your home to collect payments. If you are approached by someone claiming to be from the Water Utility and seeking payment for your water bill or requesting to inspect your water system, exercise caution and remain vigilant.

If you ever find yourself unsure about the legitimacy of an individual claiming to be a Water Utility employee, it is imperative that you refrain from allowing them entry into your home, arranging any form of payment, or disclosing any banking information.

How To Spot The Scam and Protect Yourself

Be aware that real utility workers always wear uniforms, have an ID badge, and drive marked vehicles. If someone shows up claiming to be from the utility company, make sure to ask for their employee ID number and call the company to double-check their identity and reason for being there.

Here are a few things to remember if someone who says they're from a utility company approaches you:
  • Utility workers will never ask you to pay your bill with gift cards, prepaid credit cards, or money transfers.
  • No utility worker will come to your house and ask for payment in cash or by check.
  • Utility workers won't show up unannounced to test your water or check your pipes without scheduling it first.
  • Utility workers usually don't sell or promote products.
If someone claiming to be a utility employee shows up at your home without an appointment and requests entry, information, or payment, it is best to turn them away. If you are concerned about your safety, close your door and contact 911.
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