Scammers posing as representatives of utility companies, such as United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural Gas and Connecticut Light & Power, have been targeting Connecticut residents in recent months with some success.
State officials and the utilities are reminding consumers to be skeptical if someone calls demanding immediate payment on a utility bill.
The scam typically begins with a phone call from someone claiming to be with the billing department of any one of the state's utility companies. The unsuspecting victim is told that their accounts are overdue and must be paid immediately -- that an arrest or shut-off could happen at any moment.
In recent calls, victims have been instructed to purchase and pay off the account with a pre-paid card. By giving the scammer the activation code on the card, the cardholder essentially gives them all the money that's been loaded onto the card.
"A consumer who does as the scammer demands -- who buys a pre-paid card, loads it with an amount of money and then gives the scammer the code -- will probably never get that money back, because the thief grabs the cash and disappears," Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said. "I urge residents to never make any type of payment to someone who calls you on the phone -- unless you are 100 percent certain they are who they say they are, and that you actually owe them what they claim."
Lt. Paul Vance, of the state police, added, "In order to sound authentic, scammers might use information they've found online about your utility accounts or other accounts, and you might start to wonder if they really are legitimate -- and they're not. Don't fall for high-pressure tactics, including threats that you're about to be arrested for not paying your utilities. State and local police are aware of this scam and you can help shut it down by reporting it promptly to local law enforcement, and providing any caller ID information that you might have. But most importantly, don't get taken in -- don't provide any cash, credit card, debit card or bank account numbers to anyone over the phone."
Connecticut's utility companies report that they do not call customers to demand immediate payments via prepaid cash cards.
"Unfortunately, this is a persistent issue we are seeing across the country, with scammers trying to take advantage of utility customers by misrepresenting themselves as employees," Penni Conner, senior vice president and chief customer officer at Northeast Utilities, parent company of CL&P, said. "We will continue our proactive outreach to remind customers to never give out their personal financial information over the phone. If customers are skeptical, we urge them to report the incident to our customer service department at 800-286-2000, or to the local authorities."
Officials advise the following action:
Check caller ID and note the number.
Ask the caller's name and position with the company, and for a call-back number.
Have the caller confirm the account number.
Never provide personal or account information to anyone you're not sure is legitimately representing the company.
Call the utility company to report the scam.
Report the scam to the police as soon as possible.