Provided by Cedar Falls Utilities
Would-be crooks took an old scam to a new level in Cedar Falls this month. The targeted business turned the fraudsters away empty handed, and Cedar Falls Police urge businesses and households to be alert for similar scams.
The scam works like this. A business or household gets a call, often on a Saturday, from someone who falsely claims to be from the local electric utility. The caller threatens to turn off the power unless the customer pays his overdue bill immediately, and pressures the customer to give up credit card or checking account information.
Earlier this month, two men trying to pull this scam first called then showed up in person at a local business.
Cedar Falls Police say the targeted business owner recognized the scam over the phone and refused to pay. Then the caller showed up at the business’s back door and said he would come inside and turn off the power unless he could collect the payment. An employee told the scammer he would call the police and allow entry only if the police were present. The fraudster left with a companion in a red pick-up bearing a magnetic sign that said “Utilities.”
The fraudsters told the targeted business to call a decoy phone number to confirm they were from the utility company. In addition, the fraudsters faked their caller ID so that the call appeared to come from one of the utility company’s numbers.
“We’ve received a handful of reports in recent years from customers who get these utility bill fraud calls,” said Cedar Falls Police Captain Craig Berte. “But this was the first report of a scam artist showing up in person at the targeted business. This elevates the risk from financial loss to physical confrontation.”
If you suspect a scammer is at your property, don’t let them inside. Lock the door, try to observe the person’s license plate number and call the police.
When legitimate utility employees go to a home or business, they give their names and show identification. They do not ask for money or credit card information. If you have any concerns, they respect your request to wait while you call Cedar Falls Utilities’ (CFU) published phone number to verify their identity and purpose.
Police and utility officials say there are many ways to recognize a bill collection scam:
Day and time – CFU does not disconnect customers for overdue bills outside of Monday through Friday business hours. If you receive a disconnect call at night or on the weekend, the call is fraudulent.
Multiple notices – Utilities must follow a regulated process before disconnecting electric service for any customer. A customer receives multiple notices by mail, phone and/or door tag over a period of several weeks before service is disconnected. An immediate disconnect threat with no prior notice is fraud.
Know what you owe – If you know your utility account is up to date, any bill collection call is fraud.
Collection method – When a bill is past due, the customer is asked to make payment arrangements through the utility’s business office. Never give cash, credit card or bank account information to someone who shows up at your property and says he’s there to disconnect your service.
Ask for ID, then call the utility – If someone on the phone threatens immediate disconnection, ask their first and last name and their supervisor’s name. Then hang up and call the utility at its published phone number, not any number provided by the caller or the incoming number that showed on your phone. The utility will be able to verify the status of your account.