The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is alerting consumers regarding a scam involving their utility service. The scammers typically contact consumers by phone and identify themselves as a representative of a local utility. The scammers 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. Many scammers use a device that affects the consumer’s caller ID system to make the call look like it’s coming from a local utility. These scams have affected both business and residential consumers.
“Unfortunately, there are people out there who try to take advantage of our need for vital utility service,” said Commission Chairman Mark Vannoy. “No 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.”
In the past, this scam has primarily involved electric utilities, but recently the Commission has learned of a scammer posing as a representative from the consumer’s local water utility. 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 and 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.
- If you receive a phone call, email, text, or even a visit from someone telling you to make a utility payment via a prepaid debit/credit card, it’s probably a scam. Do not make the payment and instead call your utility company at the phone number that appears on your bill. You may also report the scammers to Maine’s Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Services at 1-800-436-2131 or the Federal Trade Commission, by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.