How to spot a utility scam

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LANSING, MI. (WILX) -- The thought of your heat getting shut off in the middle of winter can be scary, and criminals are counting on that fear to get you to give them your money.

Photo Source: Pixabay / MGN

It's simple but effective; they tell you your bill is past due and the only way to prevent a shut-off is to send them money in a way that's just about impossible to trace.

"A customer could receive a call threatening an immediate shutoff unless they take action. That action usually requires some form of payment," Ann Armstrong, of the Michigan Public Service Commission, said.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is noticing a big increase in these phone scams.

They usually target the elderly.

But investigators say schools can also be prime targets.

"The callers call with a sense of urgency. 'If you don't get me this payment right away, we're shutting off the power to your school.' That can be really damaging to a school system. They may not have had any knowledge of these types of scams, and there's just that immediate reaction of 'How do I stave off these shutoffs,'" Armstrong said.

Armstrong says vulnerable families that need energy assistance are also at risk.

"They may be extra nervous that if they don't do the right thing, they won't get that energy assistance, and that could put them in a tailspin in terms of needing other assistance and other bills. They need that power."

Armstrong says if you're not expecting a call from your energy provider then it may be a bit sketchy.

"Most likely, you would have received a paper communication from them notifying you that they will contact you or stop by so that you won't get an unsolicited call, even if the number looks like the utility's phone number. A utility will never call you with a bullying tactic, they will never ask for personal information."

You can check with your provider if you think someone is trying to scam you, or you can file a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

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