DES MOINES, Iowa – As the winter heating season approaches, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and a group of Iowa utilities and utility associations are warning Iowans about the prospect of scammers posing as utilities or government representatives in order to gain access to personal information from utility customers.
This year, utility companies reported several utility-related scams that impacted customers in Iowa.
• Last month, MidAmerican Energy Company reported a phone scam in the Des Moines area, when someone who claimed to represent MidAmerican Energy contacted several customers and instructed them to make an immediate payment to avoid disconnection. Alliant Energy reported that the same scam happened just last week in Cedar Rapids.
• This summer, Alliant Energy customers in Marshalltown and Perry lost several hundred dollars each when a caller convinced them that they owed back payments to the utility company. Neither customer owed money, but they responded to the threat of being disconnected by paying instantly through the purchase of a pre-paid credit card.
• Throughout the year, utility customers across the U.S. reported receiving calls from scam artists who claimed the federal government was providing credits or applying payments to utility bills and that customers could qualify by providing personal information, such as bank account information and Social Security numbers.
While these scams vary and can involve any utility provider, the ways to avoid falling victim are usually the same. To help protect customers, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, in partnership with Alliant Energy, Black Hills Energy, MidAmerican Energy, The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and the Iowa Utility Association are offering important information to deter scam artists from obtaining customers’ personal information.
“Never give financial or personal information over the phone or through email unless you’re the one who initiated the conversation and you know who you’re dealing with,” said Miller. “If someone calls you out of the blue and demands immediate payment or requests personal information, hang up. If something just doesn’t seem right, trust your instinct.”
If you have concerns about a call you’ve received, contact your utility provider. Your utility can confirm whether it contacted you and can confirm bill payments, service work or a service call to any address. Beware that scammers can spoof caller-ID displays, which means that they can mask the call’s true origin and make it appear as if it the call is coming from a utility company.
Tips for consumers:
• Do not provide your Social Security number, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone who requests that information during an unsolicited phone call or an unannounced visit.
• If someone calls claiming they represent your local utility provider and they demand immediate payment or personal information, hang up and call the customer service number on your utility bill. Do not give in to a high-pressure caller seeking personal information.
• Never allow anyone into your home for an unannounced visit to check your electrical wiring, cable or phone lines, natural gas pipes, or your appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or you are aware of a confirmed problem. Any time a utility employee arrives at your door, require the employee to show proper identification. When in doubt, confirm the visit with your utility company.
Customers should report attempted scams to local law enforcement. They also can notify the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by visiting IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or calling 515-281-5926. Outside the Des Moines metro area, call toll free at 888-777-4590.
Geoff Greenwood, Office of the Attorney General 515-281-6699
Justin Foss, Alliant Energy 319-786-4788
Laura Roussell, Black Hills Energy – Iowa Gas 563-585-4022
Tina Potthoff, MidAmerican Energy Company 515-281-2585
Joelle Kirchhoff, Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives 515-727-8945
John Burnett, Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities 515-289-1999
Mark Douglas, Iowa Utility Association 515-282-2115