BBB and a local victim warning residents as reports about utility scams rise in the Cleveland area

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 5:36 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - If you get a call or a knock at the door from someone claiming to be your water or gas company, it’s more important now than ever to make sure they’re telling the truth.

Our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad say they see an uptick in utility scam reports as more people are quarantining at home.

Unfortunately, Don Ecker has experience with a utility scam.

“I don’t like it!” he said. “I have to question why they even let these people exist?”

That’s why Ecker recently reported it when he got a phone call from someone saying they wanted to help lower his gas bill. They asked for his gas account number.

Thankfully, he knew not to give the person any information.

"They said, ‘We cant really help you if we don’t have your information,’ and I said ‘I don’t need your help. Goodbye,’ he said.

Sue McConnell in the BBB’s Cleveland office says similar scams are rampant right now.

“The scammers know we’re at home,” she said. "We’re at home. We’re accessing the phone. They can call us and chances are we’re going at be there.

Aside from trying to mess with your account, McConnell says scammers are also calling, claiming that if you don’t do what they say, your power will get cut off.

She says it’s important not to panic, though.

“If someone calls claiming to be from your utility company and they want information from you, just get their number to call back,” she said.

Then, verify with your utility company whether it’s really them reaching out.

And furthermore, remember the truth about the time we’re living in.

“The utility providers for the most part, aren’t disconnecting anyone’s service right now during this. They said that they won’t do it,” McConnell said.

BBB Serving Greater Cleveland also gave these tips for consumers who are looking to avoid becoming a victim of utility scams:

  • Stay Up To Date With News - Many Ohio utility companies, including FirstEnergy (Ohio Edison), are suspending disconnect of customer utilities due to the coronavirus outbreak. On March 13, First Energy issued a press release stating, “Effective immediately, the company’s ten electric utilities have taken action to maintain reliable service to customers by discontinuing power shut-offs for customers who are past due on their electric bills.” Additionally, FirstEnergy is a BBB Accredited Business and also lists additional tips for consumers on their website to help them avoid scams.
  • Be Skeptical - If you receive a robocall, text message, or phone call from a utility company, be skeptical. Don’t verify personal information until you have verified the identity of the caller. Many utility companies have a policy not to ask for consumers’ social security or bank account numbers over the phone.
  • Don’t Panic - Many scammers will try to induce panic in victims by claiming individuals are past due and power disconnect is imminent, sometimes with incredibly short timeframes. Verify your utility account status independently and outside of the phone call via copies of bills or online portals.
  • Call Back – When in doubt, hang up and call utility companies back on numbers listed on official correspondence or websites.
  • Don’t Let Workers in Without an Appointment - Do not allow anyone claiming to be a utility employee into your home unless you scheduled an appointment beforehand. Ask for identification.
  • Keep Residences Locked - With more amiable weather potentially in Northeastern Ohio’s future, BBB is reminding consumers to lock windows and doors when not in use. Even though many area residents are continuing to shelter-in-place, simply being home isn’t enough to discourage brazen burglars.

If you believe you may be a victim of a utility scam, you can report it on the BBB Scam Tracker.

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