December 9, 2014

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What You Need to Know About Utility Fraud

Early reports indicate that this winter will be slightly milder than last winter. (No polar vortex!) But even a mild winter will likely trigger an increase in your utility bills. As you adjust the thermostat, be sure that you are monitoring your bills carefully; some customers are reporting that their utility companies are overcharging them illegally. And that’s only one of three utility fraud alerts we have to report this year.

Fraudulent Rate Increases

The experts at Forbes also recently reported that several electric companies more than doubled their rates without notifying their customers. When asked about it, the companies claimed the extraneous charges to simply be increase in the cost of energy – despite many other utility companies not facing the same issues.

In light of this news, before you pay your power bill, double check to make sure you’re not being overbilled. Your per kWh rate should be similar to the rate charged by public utilities. If it’s not, know that inflated rates may violate the agreement you have with your electric supplier, and you have a right to dispute the validity of the charges. If you choose to do so, call your provider directly.

Payment Due Claim

There’s a troubling utility fraud scam in which people have been receiving phone calls from individuals claiming to represent a public utility service. The “representative” will then say that the victim’s power is about to be shut off unless immediate payment is made, and that it can be made via a “Green Dot” Visa card, which can be purchased over the phone by providing personal information.

Please remember that legitimate businesses will never call and ask for your personal information over the phone. If you receive a phone call like this, it is okay to hang up and call the number provided on your utility bill to check the status of your account.

False Account Openings

An additional utility scam on the rise is the practice of stolen identities used to open up new utility accounts. The process is similar to other types of identity theft – where a thief procures your identity and uses it to open an account – only in this situation – it’s a utility account. Frank Uribie of Houston experienced this fraud first hand. His family believed his information was stolen while he was being cared for in a nursing facility. Before the fraud was caught, 7 false utility accounts were opened in his name and $1,500 in charges were accrued.

We’ve said this before, and we’ll continue to repeat it time and time again: the most important thing you can do to avoid identity or information scams is to remain vigilant all year long. Carefully read all of your utility bills, credit card statements, and credit reports on a regular basis. This is a good way to find out if anybody is using your name to apply for credit cards, wireless device contracts, utility payments, check reorder, mortgages, or loan applications.

Remember, IdentityForce can help you monitor your information 24/7 and alert you there is unusual activity in your name. This gives you the power to stop fraud attempts rather than having to react after the damage is already done. Getting started is simple, too. Sign up for a free trial of our identity protection services, today.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Kenny Louie.

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Heidi Daitch

Director, Strategic Programs at IdentityForce
Heidi is a busy working mom who juggles many of the same responsibilities and challenges at home and at work - a long list of things to do and not enough time to do everything. With so little time, Heidi tries hard to find simple, but effective strategies to save time for what’s really important – spending time with her family.
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