According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 3 million consumers filed fraud complaints last year. Debt collection, identity theft and imposter scams were the most common complaints. That’s likely just a fraction of the fraud being perpetrated in this country.
In one common “impostor scam,” someone pretending to be a utility employee calls and threatens shut-off within an hour if they do not receive immediate payment via a pre-paid card. Victims are given a phony phone number to call back after they have purchased the cards at the closest retail store.
Scammers are growing more sophisticated – using technology to spoof caller ID numbers and mimic voice prompts heard on a legitimate customer service line. When the customer calls back with payment, a fake representative asks for the pre-paid card number or the number on the receipt. Within seconds the money is gone.
These thieves can – and do – target anyone. But they more often target small business customers because they have larger bills than residential customers, but don’t have the checks and balances of a large business.
Some stories are heartbreaking. An employee at an animal hospital withdrew money from her personal bank account to pay a thief. A dental assistant did the same. On the Friday before the busy Labor Day weekend, a pizzeria owner was conned out of $2,500. When told his payment did not go through, he paid again.
To combat these con artists, more than 40 utilities across North America — including PSE&G — have joined forces to share information, resources and scam-fighting best practices. The collaborative established the third Wednesday in November “Utilities United Against Scams Day.”
Utilities are taking this opportunity to educate the public about scams. Go to www.pseg.com/scamalert to learn how to spot red flags. Please report scam attempts to your utility, local police department and the FTC. This data will help us combat the con games.
There is a reason the IRS scam call center bust last month in India made big news. Hiding behind an untraceable phone, sometimes half a world away, scammers know it’s doubtful they will be caught. By increasing customer awareness and educating people about how to spot a scam, we can spare many would-be victims and make the thieves’ underhanded job a lot harder.
Greg Dunlap, Vice President – Customer Operations – PSE&G