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Beware of scams seeking fraudulent utility payments

The heating season has arrived, along with more hours of darkness as winter approaches. So, too, have schemes aimed at cheating residents over utility bills at a time they might most need to keep services going — and might be more challenged to pay.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Michigan Public Service Commission urged residents to know the signs of fraud during Utility Scam Awareness Week, which runs from Sunday through Saturday.

“Raising awareness and educating customers about scams is one of my top priorities,” Nessel said. “Utility Scam Awareness Week is a great opportunity to help spread awareness about suspicious behaviors and the tactics scammers use to target utility customers.”

Many electric, water and natural gas customers throughout the country — including Michigan — are targeted by impostor utility scams every day. Scammers typically use phone, in-person and online tactics to fool customers.

“It is important that customers call their utilities directly to check on the status of their accounts if they are ever unsure about the authenticity of a caller or the identity of a service worker, or if they suspect any fraudulent activity,” Nessel said.

The MPSC, which regulates energy utilities and telecommunications, receives a significant number of complaints each year from customers who have been the victim of utility scams.

“We ask utility customers to be mindful when they receive these calls,” MPSC Chairwoman Sally Talberg said. “It can be even more confusing when scammers use technology to falsify caller ID to make it appear the call is coming from a utility company. If you suspect a fraudulent call, hang up and call your utility right away.”

Utility companies never call customers to demand immediate payment to keep services from being shut off in a matter of hours. And utility companies do not use deceptive tactics to try to get inside a home. Real employees always wear company identification badges.

Utility companies also will not:

— Require a prepaid debit card or gift card for payments;

— Collect payment at a customer’s home or business;

— Call, text or email and ask for Social Security, bank account or credit card information.

Utilities United Against Scams, at www.UtilitiesUnited.org — a consortium of more than 100 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas utilities, and their trade associations — sponsors this week-long awareness campaign and offers consumers a comprehensive Consumers Guide to Imposter Utility Scams.

Those who fear they have mistakenly provided bank account or credit card information to an impostor should immediately call their bank or credit card company. To make a complaint or report a possible utility scam, go online to the Michigan Public Service Commission or call 1-800-292-9555. A complaint also can be filed with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team at mi.gov/agcomplaints.

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