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As temperatures drop, thermostats begin to rise and many consumers begin to see their heating bills increase. It should come as no surprise then that scammers capitalize on the changing seasons by offering lower energy bills or preying on fears about paying for service.

Usually initiated by a phone call, or less commonly by door-to-door solicitations and even the occasional fax, scammers suggest their company can offer lower utility bills than larger providers, such as Eversource, National Grid, or Unitil, and ask for account information and/or billing information to “review” the account.

Our Office isn’t immune to these calls. We wrote about this scam last winter after staffers received multiple calls on both personal and work phones about our accounts. We made up account numbers and provided false addresses, but the scammers had no trouble locating our accounts! After being conferenced in with someone from their billing department, we disconnected the call. We also recently received a fax from a company offering lower rates. We called the number on the fax and requested information about their company and where they are headquartered. The scammers didn’t appreciate our questions and quickly hung-up the phone.

These scam calls and door-to-door solicitations can be confusing because many times they stem from something real. Massachusetts residents have choice in who provides their electric supply and the Department of Public Utilities has information on their website where consumers can learn about competitive energy suppliers and choose an alternative to their service. In an effort to help combat scammers and protect consumers, the DPU issued an order requiring that all legitimate door-to-door marketing campaigns file a notice with the Department and follow specific guidelines when conducting business.  Those individuals doing the solicitations must also produce and display identification clearly stating the competitive supplier or electricity broker’s name, logo, and the individual’s first name, photo, and identification number; Provide a phone number on request that the customer can call to verify the identity of the individual and competitive supplier or electricity broker they are representing; Identify the competitive supplier or electricity broker which he or she represents upon commencement of the sales call; and cannot suggest affiliation with the local utility.

In other variations of a utility scam, the scammer threatens immediate shut-off of the utility unless payment is made. Often, they demand a payment, typically a prepaid debit card from a store. Utility companies will never demand a specific kind of payment.

If you ever receive these solicitations, you should:

  • Be cautious. Utility companies will seldom call you or visit your home without you first initiating the call or visit.
  • Get your most recent utility bill and ask the caller to recite your account number. If they cannot, that’s a sign they’re a scammer.
  • Ask for identification. Utility employees will ALWAYS carry identification. Don’t let anyone in your home who cannot provide proof of who they say they are.
  • Remember your shut-off rights. Utility companies must follow strict rules and processes before turning off your service. A call or unexpected visit will never be the first time you’re learning that you owe money.

For more information on a particular utility company, visit their website. Most have information about scams and what type of information a legitimate employee would request from you.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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