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BBB of Greater Cleveland warns of rise in utility scams targeting residents

Local police department warns residents about a 'very' convincing phone utility scam
Posted at 9:59 AM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 09:59:21-04

CLEVELAND — The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Greater Cleveland is warning consumers of the increase in utility scams targeting residents in our area.

One of the ways this scam is happening is through distraction burglary, which typically occurs when residents are at home. The BBB said scammers may park a work truck within sight of a residence and then proceed to solicit residents door-to-door. Usually working in pairs, one person will distract the homeowners while the other one enters the home and burglarizes it.

A second utility scam seen in the area is a utility phishing scam in which local residents reported receiving cold calls from individuals posing as employees of major energy companies or as a third-party company handling collections.

The BBB said on April 17 a woman from Brunswick said she received a call from someone saying her power would be turned off in 45 minutes.

“The recording stated I was sixty days past due. Ohio Edison will be turning off my service in forty-five minutes. Instructed me to press one. I knew not to press any numbers. I hung up. I called Ohio Edison and reported the call,” she said.

Another woman from Bedford said she received a call, “stating (there was a) power disconnect imminent in 45 minutes due to an unpaid utility bill, if incorrect please press 1.” After she pressed 1, “a man [in a phone bank] said he was in [the] Disconnect Department [and stated her] December and January bills were unpaid. [He] asked my name and address, and before he could ask any other info, I mentioned I'd retrieved [sic] our online payment info. [The man then] hung up.”

The BBB offered the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam:

Be Skeptical - If you receive a robocall, text message, or phone call from a utility company, be skeptical. Don’t verify personal information until you have verified the identity of the caller. Many utility companies have a policy not to ask for consumers’ social security or bank account numbers over the phone.

Don’t Panic - Many scammers will try to induce panic in victims by claiming individuals are past due and power disconnect is imminent, sometimes with incredibly short timeframes. Verify your utility account status independently and outside of the phone call via copies of bills or online portals.

Call Back – When in doubt, hang up and call utility companies back on numbers listed on official correspondence or websites.

Don’t Let Workers in Without an Appointment - Do not allow anyone claiming to be a utility employee into your home unless you scheduled an appointment beforehand. Ask for identification.

Keep Residences Locked - With more amiable weather potentially in Northeastern Ohio’s future, BBB is reminding consumers to lock windows and doors when not in use. Even though many area residents are still continuing to shelter-in-place, simply being home isn’t enough to discourage brazen burglars.