The recent tragedy with gas customers in Massachusetts has everyone focused on their utilities. Which makes it a perfect time for scam artists to take advantage of worried customers—both individuals and small businesses.

One scam making headway is when a fraudster calls a customer over the telephone telling them that their water, electricity or gas will be shut off due to an outstanding bill. You don’t think that any of your past bills are outstanding, but they make it urgent and threatening that your utility will be shut off immediately if you don’t pay the outstanding bill. They can be very convincing and are well-trained.

The sure signs of a scam are if the caller requests your banking information, or asks you to pay by gift card, cash reload card, wiring money or through cryptocurrency. Utilities will not request this information over the telephone or force you to pay over the telephone as your only option.

The issue has become so widespread, that the Federal Trade Commission has been receiving complaints and has issued a Consumer Information notification about the scam.

The guidance provided by the FTC if you receive a call like this includes:

  • “Concerned that your bill is past due? Contact the utility company directly using the number on your paper bill or on the company’s website. Don’t call any number the caller gave you.
  • Never give banking information over the phone unless you place the call to a number you know is legitimate.
  • Tell the FTC. Your reports help us fight these scams. And report it to the real utility company. If you already paid, tell the payment provider – such as the wire transfer or gift card company. You may not get your money back, but it’s important to tell them about the scam.
  • Find out how you can protect yourself and your business from scams [by visiting].”

Scammers know when to hit vulnerable individuals following a disaster or crisis, like the gas incident in Massachusetts. Be aware of their intent and protect yourself from becoming a victim from scare tactics.