Image: Austin Energy
Texas electric utility Austin Energy today warned of unknown individuals impersonating the company and threatening customers over the phone that their power will be cut off unless they pay fictitious overdue bills.
During these ongoing scam attempts, the scammers warn the customers that their utilities will be disconnected if they don’t make immediate payments, “typically using a reloadable prepaid debit card or other non-traceable form of payment.”
“Scammers are trying to take advantage of our customers in the aftermath of the winter storm,” Austin Energy warned earlier today.
“The scammers are telling customers they will be disconnected within 30-60 minutes if immediate payment is not made. We are not conducting disconnects, and we haven’t been doing so since March 2020.”
Austin Energy says that they will never call their residential customers to inform them of urgent cut-off deadlines, ask them for information on credit cards or wire transfers, or ask them to pay late bills using untraceable forms of payment like cryptocurrency or gift cards.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also warned earlier today of scammers taking advantage of ongoing extreme weather events to steal utility company customers’ money and personal information.
To identify and protect themselves from such scam attempts, customers are advised to take the following measures:
- If you get a call, thank the caller and hang up. Never call a number left in a voicemail, text, or email. Instead, if you’re worried, contact the utility company directly using the number on your bill or on the company’s website. Verify if the message came from them.
- If you get a call out of the blue and the caller claims you have to pay a past due bill or your services will be shut off, never give banking information over the phone. To pay your bill over the phone, always place the call to a number you know is legitimate.
- Utility companies don’t demand payment information by email, text, or phone. And they won’t force you to pay by phone as your only option.
- If the caller tells you to pay by gift card, cash reload card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency, it’s a scam. Every time. No matter what they say.
This warning comes after multiple and spreading power outages across Texas, following a winter storm that led to the collapse of the state’s power grid and water systems.
However, while Texas power plants are now back online, roughly 325,000 households are still affected and in the dark, as Texas governor Greg Abbott said on Sunday.
“The parts of our service area experiencing outages are based on the status of the circuit they’re on. Areas with power likely share a circuit with a critical load circuit,” Austin Energy said last week.
“Critical load circuits include hospitals, control centers, 911, the airport and water/wastewater plants and are not subject to outages.”