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BBB on Homes: Look out for utility company imposter scams

Chron logo Chron 2/28/2021 By Leah Napoliello, BBB
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Utility company imposter scams have been reported throughout greater Houston following the winter storm at a time when homeowners need their heat, electricity, water, and other essentials.

Scammers are unfortunately taking advantage of this disaster by impersonating water, electric, and gas company representatives. They frequently threaten residents with deactivation of service if they don’t pay immediately.

These scammers will typically reach you with a telephone call, text, email or social media messaging, or they may knock on your door claiming to be a representative from the local water, electric, or gas company. In the most common scenario, the scammer informs you that payment is overdue, and the utility will be shut off or will not be restored if you don’t pay as soon as possible.

Scammers use a variety of other tricks to prey on utility customers. A “representative” may appear at your door in a plausible work uniform claiming they need to do work at your home, at your expense. In a particularly alarming form of this con, the scammer may gain access to your home to perform “repairs” with the intent of stealing your valuables.

The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas offers the following tips to avoid this scam:

 Requiring prepaid debit cards, gift card payments, wire transfers is a red flag. If a caller or someone online specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, this is a huge warning sign. Your utility company will accept a check or credit card.

 Watch out for any pressure to pay immediately. Scammers will press for immediate payment and may try to intimidate you into giving them your personal and banking information. Do not fall for it.

 Call customer service. If you feel pressured for immediate action by a caller, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative. Never give your personal or banking information to an unverified or unsolicited caller.

 Never allow anyone into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification before letting them enter.

The Better Business Bureau is a nonprofit for honest business behavior. Visit www.bbbhouston.org or call 713-868-9500. Leah Napoliello is senior director of Investigative Services with the BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas. Send questions to Leah Napoliello, Better Business Bureau, 1333 West Loop South, Suite 1200, Houston, TX 77027, or e-mail lnapoliello@bbbhou.org with mailing address and phone number.

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