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Utility Imposter Scams
Have you ever received a call from a utility company claiming that your bill is overdue and if you don’t pay now, your power, heat, or water will be turned off immediately? That is the last thing you want in Michigan’s cold winters or hot summers. Scammers know this and will pose as utility company employees to trick you into providing money, personal, or financial information.
Scammers bully consumers, threatening to turn off a utility at an inconvenient time. They are aggressive, stating payment must be made immediately, and be paid in a manner not used by utilities, such as a Green Dot debit card, Western Union wire transfer, bitcoin, or apps like Cash App, Venmo, and Zelle. They may also ask for bank account or credit card information.
Utility companies may offer you the option to pay over the phone but will never demand payment over the phone
They will also never do the following:
- Demand payment be made immediately or ask for payment in an unusual payment form.
- Solicit personal information under the guise of signing you up for a government program that claims to reduce energy bills.
- Make unannounced visits to collect a bill or threaten shutoff. Utilities will never threaten to disrupt or disconnect service either in person, over the phone, or by email. All late payment notices are mailed USPS and provide the steps to restore the account to good standing.
- Show up at your home to inspect or repair equipment, investigate a leak, or do a free audit for energy efficiency. Consumers are notified in advance of a home visit.
- Request personal or financial information, such as your social security number, utility account number, or payment information. Instead, customers are asked to validate account information such as billing zip code, home address, or the phone number associated with the account.
- Claim you are entitled to a refund or rebate and ask for bank account or credit card information to make the alleged refund.
- Use aggressive tactics to get into your home. Utility companies do require employees to always wear a company identification badge that will be produced upon request.
Scammers can be convincing and often target those who are most vulnerable, including senior citizens and low-income communities. They also direct their scams at small business owners during busy service hours. However, with the right information, utility customers can learn to detect and report these predatory scams.
The current scam involves a call claiming to be from DTE, stating they are sending field staff to turn off electricity at the victim’s residence for nonpayment. The number on the caller ID reflects DTE’s actual toll-free number. The victim is able to show payments were made, but the caller claims that they were not received by DTE, and that payment is needed quickly to avoid immediate shut-off. They demand payment by some form of pre-paid debit or gift card or through a pay app such as Zelle, with the promise of returning the funds if its later determined payment was made after further investigation. Neither form of payment is regulated, and both are irreversible and untraceable.
Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers that appear on your phone display. The number, if called back, will direct you to an imposter posing as a utility worker at a utility company you are familiar with. Instead of dialing the number provided by the caller, locate contact information for that company on a recent utility bill and call to confirm if they contacted you in the first place.
If a scammer threatens immediate disconnection or service shutoff without prior notification, hang up the phone, delete the email, or shut the door. To be safe, hang up and call the company directly from a phone number available on their website or on a monthly bill. Customers with delinquent accounts will receive an advance disconnection notification, typically by mail included with their regular monthly bill.
Never purchase or provide a prepaid card, send money through a wire transfer service, or through a mobile application like Zelle to avoid disconnection or shutoff. Utility companies will offer a variety of ways to pay a bill including online payment, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail, or in person at an authorized payment center.
Create an online account with each utility. Not only can customers log in to check their balance and payment history, but they can also sign up for recurring payments, paperless billing, and helpful alerts.
Tips and Reporting
If you suspect you have been contacted by a utility imposter, call the number for that service provider listed on your utility bill to speak to a customer service representative. They can confirm the status of your account, make appropriate arrangements to protect your account, and assist you with a payment plan if necessary. Also report it online to the Michigan Public Service Commission or call 800-292-9555.
If you’ve mistakenly provided bank account or credit card information to someone you suspect might have been an impostor, call your bank or credit card company immediately.
Customers who feel threatened during contact with an imposter should contact local law enforcement.
Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) is an agency dedicated to combating impostor utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices, in addition to working together to implement initiatives to inform and protect customers. They also published a comprehensive Consumer Guide to Imposter Utility Scams for consumer assistance.
To report a scam, file a complaint or get additional information, contact the Michigan Department of Attorney General:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form