Fraudsters Contact Utilities Customers and Urge
Payment of ‘Delinquent’ Bills on Gift Cards
New York – New York Attorney General Letitia James issued an alert to New Yorkers across the state to remain vigilant against a surge in telephone scams seeking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. A rise in reported complaints have shown that fraudsters are again utilizing a telephone scam in which scammers impersonate a utilities customer service representative and urge customers to buy gift cards and call back with the serial numbers to pay what they claim is a delinquent bill. Scammers convince customers to pay the bill by threating to cut off service and suggesting near-by stores that sell gift cards to immediately pay the bill in question. Consumers who are contacted do not necessarily have delinquent or outstanding bills. According to police in the Hudson Valley, customers of Orange and Rockland Utilities have seen an exponential rise in this type of fraudulent activity in recent months.
“As New Yorkers continue to suffer the economic impacts of the COVID-19 public health crisis, scammers have seen this as an opportunity to take advantage of the economic anxiety that many New Yorkers feel and the additional time some have needed to pay their bills,” said Attorney General James. “Utilities are essential services that are needed for households to survive. Falsely threatening to shut off these vital lifelines is not only heartless, but unlawful, which is why this type of illegal activity will not be tolerated for a moment. I strongly urge any New Yorker that has been targeted by this type of fraud to report these calls to my office immediately. We will do everything in our power to protect consumers from bad actors who use economic instability as leverage to line their pockets.”
As part of the fraud, scammers put pressure on customers to pay immediately or else have their services cut off instantly. Utility providers — including Orange and Rockland Utilities — do not call and threaten to shut off service if an immediate payment is not made. Utility providers also do not accept gift cards as a form of payment.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) advises consumers to never disclose their banking information or other personal identifiable information over the phone, even if their caller ID displays a number belonging to a certain utility provider, as many scammers are now duplicating or “spoofing” utility phone numbers to appear more legitimate.
When reporting scams to the OAG, consumers should report the specific charges, the dates and times of the phone calls that were placed, and any threatening language that was used in an effort to pressure them to go out and purchase gift cards.
Unfortunately, utility bill scams have increased in the past year as many Americans struggle to keep up with household bills due to the global pandemic. The OAG has taken action and issued various consumer alerts connected to telephone scams. Last September, the OAG partnered with the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to launch Operation Corrupt Collector, a national initiative to target scammers who use scare tactics to collect on debts that they did not have the right to collect and/or that a consumer did not legally owe. In many of these cases, collectors used the same caller ID “spoofing” technique that scammers are currently using in the Orange and Rockland Utilities’ collection scam.
New Yorkers who have been targeted by this or any other scam are urged to file a complaint by completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755.