Scams involving utility bills for electric, water or gas services have long been popular with scammers. In one incident reported just prior to the Coronavirus pandemic a Rochester, New York woman was called by a scammer posing as a Rochester Gas and Electric employee who convinced her to pay the scammer $2,100 through prepaid debit cards before she realized she had been scammed. And she is not alone. Many people fall for scams such as this. Targeted victims are called on the phone and told that their utility service will be terminated for non-payment unless they pay by credit card or prepaid cards over the phone. In another utility scam, potential victims receive an email that has a link to take them to their bill where they are prompted to provide personal information or make a payment through a phony website. In the first scam, the targeted victim is coerced into giving their credit card or prepaid card information to a scammer. In the second, merely by clicking on the link to go to the phony bill, the victim ends up downloading keystroke logging malware or ransomware that can lead to identity theft or worse.
Recently, the electrical company, National Grid issued a new warning about a scam in which scammers are calling people and luring them into providing personal financial information by promising refunds or discounts. The calls appear to come from National Grid, but, as I have warned you many times, it is easy for scammers to “spoof” telephone numbers so that the number that shows up on your Caller ID appears to be legitimate when it is not. The initial call is a recorded call that instructs the targeted victim to press “1” to learn the details of the refund or discount program. A real person (scammer) then comes on the line who purports to be an employee of National Grid who asks for personal information, such as your bank account number. National Grid has indicated that the scammers method of copying the types of recorded messages used by National Grid and directions for phone prompts is very sophisticated and could easily appear to be legitimate to an unwary customer.
You can never be sure when you get an email, text message or a telephone call if it is really from a legitimate source. Email addresses can be hacked to appear legitimate and even if you have Caller ID, a scammer can use a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is from a legitimate caller. Trust me, you can’t trust anyone. Never provide personal or financial information to anyone in response to a telephone call, text message or email until you have independently confirmed that the communication was legitimate. In the case of a utility bill, merely call the number on the back of your bill and you will be able to confirm whether or not the communication was legitimate. Also, never click on links unless you have confirmed that they are legitimate. The risk is too great.
In the case of the National Grid telephone calls and similar type of scam phone calls, you can ask the caller for your account number. If they don’t have it, the call is obviously a scam.
For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.” Scamicide was recently cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.