Within the utility sector, during the COVID-19 crisis, many utilities have changed their payment policies to ease the burden for companies that have either had to close or move to shortened operating hours. The utilities have allowed customers to extend the due dates on their bills, defer payments in some cases up 6 months or allowed negotiated payment terms to spread out the total cost. Now that we are 3 months into this crisis, some of the policies that were implemented are now expiring and payments are coming due. This has become an opportunity for scammers to try to install themselves and take advantage of the situation.
We are currently working with our clients and have identified a number of scams operating within this sector. Individuals are making calls to commercial companies and identifying themselves as being from the local utility company. They have researched the policy which the utility had put into place and have used this information to scam the customer into making a payment under the threat of disconnect. Their assumption is that most companies would have taken advantage of any payment deferrals and as such, have an outstanding balance with the utility. They will provide a 1 800 toll free number and when you call this number back, it does sound like you are calling the utility directly, but you are not.
Our advice would be to;
- direct the caller to a specific person within your organization that is most familiar with the utility bill process
- do not provide the caller with any of your account info, but instead ask them specific questions such as the account number they are calling about, service address and current amount owing (they should know this if they are calling concerning collection)
- once you have this information, simply tell them you will research for yourself and call back to discuss
- do not call back the number they provide. Call the phone number that is listed on your utility bill
Most likely what you will find is that the utility did not place the call to you and there is no threat of disconnection.
For the fun of it, we recently went along with one of these callers and acquired the payment instructions which they provided. In the end, we were to go a local convenience store and deposit funds into a Bitcoin machine. Needless to say, we didn’t follow through with their instructions.