The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the Department of Public Service are alerting consumers of a phone scam in which scammers are threatening to suspend electricity services unless they receive payment for past due balances. Payment has been requested by means of untraceable services such as money transfer apps, including Cash App.
Scammers may also attempt to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims. In these cases, the caller “spoofs” the official phone number of the Department of Public Service and calls individuals seeking payment for outstanding utility bills to avoid disconnection of service. Pursuant to Governor Cuomo’s March 13th directive, the Department of Public Service worked with the State’s utility companies to ensure no New Yorkers would have their utilities cutoff for nonpayment during the PAUSE. Similar action was taken during Super Storm Sandy, the 2014 Polar Vortex, and the 2008 financial crisis.
“Unfortunately, these types of scams appear from time to time targeting unsuspecting New Yorkers with nefarious tactics, including spoofing official government agencies and utility companies,” said New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “Be alert and follow some safety tips when you are called or approached by scammers in order to avoid falling victims of tricks to get your hard-earned money.”
Department of Public Service CEO John B. Rhodes said, “It is indeed unfortunate and flat-out wrong that scammers try to take advantage of consumers, and it’s especially true during these uncertain times. Consumers struggling to pay their utility bills should call their utility to understand their rights as consumers and to learn about the shutoff moratorium that is now in place as a result of Governor Cuomo’s swift action to protect consumers.”
In addition, calls have also been reported to be coming from scammers purporting to be from New York electric and gas utilities. The callers ask for consumer information, including utility account numbers, social security numbers, and dates of birth, and request payment for alleged past-due bills. Similar to a Social Security scam detailed in June of 2019, in these cases the caller “spoofs” official phone numbers of state agencies or utility companies call individuals seeking information that could be used to steal identities. Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to a caller ID display to disguise their identity, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In actuality, the call could be coming from anywhere in the world.
To avoid falling victim to these scams, consumers should follow the tips below:
Consumers should never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if they are at all suspicious. Consumers should not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with "Yes" or "No." Consumers should exercise caution if they are being pressured for information immediately.
Government agencies and utility companies do not ask for payments via gift cards or cash transfer apps. Gift cards allow scammers to get money without a trace. Real utility companies issue several disconnection warnings before shutting off utilities and they never demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment.
Use call blocking tools from your phone provider and check into apps that block calls. The FCC allows phone companies to block robocalls by default based on reasonable analytics (see fcc.gov/robocalls).
Do not rely on the number that comes up on your phone. Callers can “spoof” the number to look like a government agency or local utility company. If someone has contacted an individual and they are suspicious, they should hang up and go directly to the official website for the agency or utility company or call the number on their utility bill to confirm whether there is a problem with their account.
If a consumer receives this or any other scam calls, they are encouraged to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection investigates Do Not Call violations and provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.