Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning consumers to beware of phone scams involving utilities.
Two Ohio consumers have reported losing about $800 each, after receiving a call from someone claiming to represent a utility company and demanding payment. Dozens of other consumers are reporting unsolicited calls about lowering their energy rates.
"With current technology, it can be difficult to determine if a call is legitimate or a scam, and with fluctuating temperatures and high bills, utility scams can be more effective," explained DeWine. "It's important to remember that any time you receive an unexpected call, you have the right to ask questions, demand answers, or simply hang up."
In a recently reported scam, a caller - pretending to represent a utility company - said the consumer's electrical power would be shut off unless the consumer sent hundreds of dollars using a prepaid money card. In reality, the call was not coming from the consumer's utility company.
Consumers also are reporting unsolicited phone calls from individuals claiming they can lower consumers' natural gas rates. The Attorney General's Office has received approximately 100 complaints about these calls in the last two months, and more than 80 of the complaints were filed since July 1.
In the complaints, consumers from northeast Ohio generally report receiving a call from a 740 or 440 area code phone number. The caller claims to represent Dominion and offers a discount or a lower gas rate. Dominion East Ohio says these calls are not from Dominion and that the business does not solicit consumers over the phone.
Consumers can help protect themselves by following these tips:
-Don't trust your caller ID. Callers can disguise the number that appears on your caller ID, making it very difficult to determine where a call is coming from.
-Don't respond to robocalls. Even if the call instructs you to press a button to opt out, don't follow the instructions. By pressing a button you confirm that you have an active phone number and you may receive even more calls.
-Ask callers to identify themselves and provide written information. If they refuse, it is probably not a legitimate business.
-Know your rights. Natural gas and electric companies generally must give you a 14-day notice before disconnecting your service. Contact the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, to learn more and to compare electric or natural gas offers in your region.
-When in doubt, hang up. If a caller claims to represent your utility company but makes threats or demands immediate payment, hang up and call your utility company using a number you know to be legitimate, such as a number on your most recent statement.
-Beware of requests for prepaid money cards. This is a preferred payment method for scammers.
-Don't give out personal information over the phone.