The phone rings. Caller ID lists APS. The caller says your electricity will be shut off within the hour if you don’t pay your overdue bill immediately. Hang up – this is a scam.
An imposter scam is when someone pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money. The scammers are often aggressive and intimidating, demanding payment directly from your bank or in the form of pre-paid cards or cryptocurrencies.
Before and throughout the pandemic, Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) has provided customers with tips to recognize imposter scams, which escalated to take advantage of the financial challenges many have faced through COVID-19. APS also joins energy, water and gas utilities across the country to recognize Wednesday, Nov. 17 as the sixth annual Utility Scam Awareness Day, an advocacy and awareness campaign organized by Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS). The 2021 theme is ‘End the Call, End the Scam.’
Scammers will prey on anyone from vulnerable populations like the elderly to small business customers and even a Valley mayor. City of Surprise Mayor Skip Hall knew the call threatening to shut off his power and demanding $400 via a Green Dot prepaid card was not legit, but he can understand how others become victims of these scams.
“What I found most concerning was seeing ‘APS Customer Service’ on my caller ID. It’s deceiving and does make you question, ‘how is this possible?’” said Mayor Hall.
That practice is called spoofing. Scammers disguise their number to make it appear it is from a known source. In addition to utilities, they spoof the numbers of local businesses, government agencies, even police departments.
“As soon as I hung up, my thoughts went to warning others. I reached out to APS to report the call and get information to share with residents and help protect them from these scammers,” Mayor Hall said.
“APS representatives will never use the tactics often employed by scammers, such as threatening language or demanding money or personal information on the spot to prevent disconnection,” said Monica Whiting, APS Vice President of Customer Experience and Communications. “It’s important for customers to be aware and know they can check their account status anytime on aps.com or through our care center by calling the number listed on their bill or online. APS also offers customers payment arrangements, customer assistance or time to pay through secure ways to avoid disconnection.”
Utility scammers can be extremely sophisticated at making customers believe they are not an imposter, often by using strategies such as:
Threatening immediate service disconnection. They ask for personal information or demand payments to prevent service interruption.
Taking advantage of increased online activities during the pandemic. They ask for payments over the phone via digital payment apps, cryptocurrencies or direct bank transactions.
Preying on households with tight budgets. Scammers may inform customers they have overpaid utility bills and are due a refund but must first provide their banking information to process the refund. They also may claim that immediate bill payment will result in a discount or that a charitable donation can be made in exchange for a lesser bill payment.
Posing as utility employees by claiming the number on the caller ID does not match the utility’s phone number due to the company’s COVID-19 remote work policies.
If you receive a suspicious call from a possible scammer, APS offers these tips:
APS encourages customers targeted by scammers to report the incident to local law enforcement, APS at (602) 371-7171 or (800) 253-9505 and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office at 602-542-5763. Customers can visit aps.com/scams for more information about utility scams.
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