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Ford warns against utility imposter scams

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford on Friday advised Nevadans to watch out for utility imposter phone scams as local businesses reopen.

During this transition, scammers might attempt to promote misleading and fraudulent information to consumers and small local business owners.

“As the economy recovers, scammers are finding new ways to perpetuate fraud,” Ford said. “While businesses are adjusting to new ways to conduct business, I’m urging Nevadans to be vigilant about educating themselves on scams and confirming the accuracy of information.”

Imposter scams, both online and over the phone, come in many forms. The basic utility imposter scam involves a scammer posing as a member of a reputable utility company demanding money from unsuspecting customers. The scammer often calls from a number that has been “spoofed” to look like it belongs to the actual company, but it is just an attempt to add legitimacy to the scam.

The scammer usually explains that the consumer is behind on his or her utility bill and demands immediate payment to avoid a shutoff of utilities. This is just a scare tactic, Ford said.

Typically, utility companies send at least two past due notices in writing before disconnecting or terminating service, and consumers should be suspicious if they receive a threatening phone call or in-person visit with no prior written notice. If you receive a phone call or in-person visit without having received written notice, hang up the phone and call your utility company directly using the number on your bill to discuss the status of your account.

Ask for details about your account to verify whether the caller is legitimate. If the caller is unable or unwilling to provide details such as dates and amounts of prior invoices and payments, hang up and call the utility company directly.

The attorney general’s office offers tips to avoid utility imposter scams.

If you are being pressured to make an immediate payment, remain calm and ask questions to confirm your account status before making a payment.

Don’t agree to make payments by wire transfer or with a prepaid card over the telephone. A legitimate utility representative will explain to a customer how a payment can be made using the utility’s established payment options and will not demand payment over the phone.

Don’t feel pressured by an upcoming weekend or holiday. According to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission website, a utility company may not disconnect or terminate service the day before a weekend, on the weekend or on a state holiday unless a safety issue requires disconnection.

These tips also apply if a utility company representative comes to your home to demand payment for a past due account. In this situation, ask to view an identification badge with the representative’s full name, and then call the utility company directly to discuss the status of your account.

If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, you may file a complaint with the attorney general’s office or with the Federal Trade Commission.

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