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Utility Bill Scams on the Rise

Sorry, but the feds aren’t going to pay your electric bill

En español  |  Have you been hearing from so-called utility company workers who tell you that a new federal program can give you credits or partial payment on your gas or electric bill? All you have to do is provide your Social Security number or other vital information.

Beware. It's a scam that's showing up in several states. Scammers send letters, make phone calls and sometimes even knock on your door to tout the bogus new program. You may also be contacted by email, text messages and social media postings.

In another variation, the scammer gives you a bank account number and instructs you to pay your bills thorugh that account, rather than make a payment directly to the utility company.

At least 4,500 Floridians have already sent online payments to such an account, which has also provided scammers with their banking information.

Several utility companies, including Florida Power & Light, Pacific Gas & Electric, Westar Energy, San Diego Gas & Electric and Atmos Energy, have issued warnings. But the ruse continues, just in time for utility bills to increase with cranked-up air conditioners.

Meanwhile, older energy-related scams have recently resurfaced throughout the country:

Rebate redux. Several years ago, the government launched rebate and tax credit programs to help homeowners pay for energy-efficient improvements.

Scammers eagerly jumped on the bandwagon with their own invented programs, primarily for the purpose of soliciting personal and financial information in exchange for supposed credits. Or they may carry out work, collect payment from you, and then disappear before you find out that the work doesn't really qualify for a rebate or credit.

These cons continue, as do legitimate rebate and credit programs (although fewer than before).

The bottom line: Don't believe contractors who show up saying they were sent "on behalf of" the utility company to do rebate-related work. Learn about authentic rebate or tax credit programs and guidelines by contacting your utility company or the websites of Energy Star and the Department of Energy.

Past-due deception. You get a phone call claiming your utility bill is past due and your power will be disconnected unless you immediately provide a credit or debit card for payment. Need we continue? When in doubt of an AWOL payment, call your service provider directly, using the customer service number shown on your last bill.

Fast-fingered fixers. A guy in a uniform unexpectedly shows up at your door, claiming he was sent by your energy company to, say, install a new meter. Worse still, it's two guys. The ammo in this scheme is for one of them to distract you while the other gets inside your house for a quick burglary.

Utility companies typically inform customers in advance, by letter or phone call, of any work required inside a home.

And if you're told there's a gas leak or other "emergency" that requires access, make a quick call to your utility company or police.

Legitimate workers often drive company-marked vans and will always provide identification you can authenticate before you let them inside.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

Also of interest: Travel scams to watch out for.

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