Southwestern Electric Power Co. has joined Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) to support International Fraud Awareness this month.
Utility Scam Awareness is an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on educating customers and exposing the tactics used by scammers. This year's theme is "End the Call. End the Scam."
"With the holidays right around the corner, this is a particularly high-risk time for many of our customers – including senior citizens, low-income residents and understaffed small businesses – to be targeted by scammers," said Paul Pratt, director of Customer Services and Marketing. "SWEPCO reminds customers to be alert and know how to recognize scams so they can avoid falling victim to fraud and putting their financial safety at risk."
Scammers typically claim to be a SWEPCO employee and approach customers at home, by phone or by email. Imposters often use the following techniques:
-Threaten to shut off power unless an immediate payment is made;
-Tell customers they need a new electric meter but must make a payment before the new meter is installed;
-Offer a discount on their SWEPCO bill if they sign up for auto-pay; or
-Demand that a deposit be paid immediately, insist a payment be made with a pre-paid credit card or ask to meet at another location to make a payment.
"We encourage our customers who experience any potential scam to check their account status online at SWEPCO.com/Account or through SWEPCO's mobile app," said Pratt. "For payment security, customers should only make payments online at SWEPCO.com, through the mobile app, through mail, by phone or at an authorized payment location."
SWEPCO will never ask for payments using a pre-paid debit card, gift card, cryptocurrencies, or third-party digital payment mobile applications. SWEPCO will provide multiple notices and assist customers with payment plan options before service interruptions.
Pratt added that customers who receive an unexpected knock on the door from someone claiming to be with SWEPCO or AEP should be cautious.
"SWEPCO employees will show their company ID, and customers can verify the employee's status by calling us at 1-888-216-3523," he said.
Customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud or feel threatened during contact with a scammer should contact SWEPCO at 1-888-216-3523 or local law enforcement authorities. The Federal Trade Commission also provides additional information about protecting personal information and other information regarding impostor scams.
UUAS, a consortium of nearly 150 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities and their respective trade associations, continues to create customer awareness of common scams and new scam tactics used by utility impostors. Through its work and with the help of customer reporting, UUAS has successfully helped to take nearly 12,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers against utility customers out of operation.
"Scammers have not shown compassion for small businesses and private citizens enduring the trying circumstances of the last two years," said Jared Lawrence, UUAS founder and Duke Energy vice president of Metering Services and Customer Service Transformation. "In fact, they have intensified their criminal activity with high-pressure tactics and increasing use of technology. For that reason, utilities continue to unite to combat scammers by spreading awareness and are working with telecom partners to remove access to phone lines and encouraging policymakers to adopt stronger public protections."
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, utilities have seen an increase in reported scammers contacting customers seeking payments and personal and financial information to avoid service interruptions.
"It's perfectly acceptable for the customer to hang up the phone. The scammer's initial goal is to pressure their targets and convince them that they work for the utility," said UUAS Executive Director Monica Martinez. "Scammers are extremely sophisticated in their tactics, and by simply ending the call, you can end their scam. If you are unsure, you can always call back the utility by dialing the number found on your bill or on their website, and they will provide you with the correct information."
Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) is a consortium of more than 150 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities and their respective trade associations. UUAS is dedicated to combating impostor utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices, in addition to working together to implement initiatives to inform and protect customers. Visit www.utilitiesunited.org for information and tips on how customers can protect themselves from impostor utility scams.