October 30, 2019 — The Maine Public Utilities Commission (Commission) wants to alert consumers regarding scams involving their utility service.
Scammers appear to be using the Commission’s Consumer Assistance and Safety Division (CASD) consumer assistance hotline number (800-452-4699) to disguise the actual phone number that they are calling from. This practice is known as telephone number “spoofing,” a situation when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to a person’s caller ID display to disguise the caller’s true identity. Consumers have reported that they received a call apparently from the CASD telling them that they are behind on their utility bill and directing them to send payment immediately to avoid disconnection. The CASD would not do this. The CASD always issues a formal decision letter resolving customer complaints that is sent either by email or U.S. mail.
In this instance, scammers typically contact consumers by phone and demand immediate payment, often telling consumers to make a payment using a prepaid debit/credit card and directing them to call a specific number with the card information to avoid an immediate disconnection of their utility service. Consumers should know that neither the CASD, nor a legitimate business, will ask you to use a prepaid debit/credit card to make a payment. If you receive a call like this, the best thing to do is just hang up. If you are still concerned about your utility account, contact your utility at the number provided on your utility bill or call the CASD.
The Commission offers the following advice to consumers to avoid being defrauded of their money:
- Utilities will not call consumers in good standing claiming they have debt that must be paid immediately.
- If a person contacts you claiming to represent a utility or the Commission, stating that you must pay a certain sum of money immediately to avoid disconnection, you can verify your account’s standing by contacting your utility at the number provided on your utility bill (not by the person contacting you). When you reach the utility, you can verify what is truly happening with your account.
- Commission rules require utilities to provide consumers with proper notices regarding disconnection. Consumers should not provide information or money to a person over the phone without first contacting their utility. Consumers should contact the Commission’s Consumer Assistance Hotline (1-800-452-4699) if, after speaking with their utility, they cannot resolve a billing problem.