Gas and electric utility companies across the United States and Canada have joined forces to protect customers from the long-running scam targeting customers of utility service providers.
NiSource companies recently recognized Utilities United Against Scams Day, which kicked off a week-long campaign with content focused on exposing the tricks scammers use to steal money from customers, and how customers can protect themselves.
Under this scam, a customer receives an unsolicited phone call from an individual who falsely claims to be a NIPSCO or Columbia Gas representative. The scammer warns that the company will disconnect the customer’s natural gas service if the customer fails to make a payment – usually within a short timeframe.
Scammers have even duplicated utilities’ upfront Interactive Voice Response system, so when customers call back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate phone number. Some of these criminals also use caller ID spoofing to replicate NIPSCO or Columbia Gas’ customer service number.
“The protection of our customers is an absolute for Columbia Gas of Virginia,” said Brent Archer, Columbia’s President. “We urge any customer suspecting a potential scam to take immediate action by calling the local police and us.” Keep an eye out for these red flags indicating scam activity:
- The thief becomes angry and tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn’t made – usually within less than an hour.
- The thief instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back to supposedly make a payment to NIPSCO or Columbia Gas.
- The scammer asks the customer for the prepaid card’s receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds.
- NIPSCO and Columbia Gas never ask or require a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.
- Customers can make payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
- Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification with the regular monthly billing – never a single notification one hour before disconnection.
- If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, hang up and call the local police and then NIPSCO or Columbia Gas.
- Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.