DES MOINES, Iowa – As the winter heating season approaches, 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. [Click here for audio of the news conference.]
This year, utility companies reported that several Iowans were victimized by different utility-related scams:
- Last month, MidAmerican Energy reported a phone scam in the Des Moines area, where someone who claimed to represent MidAmerican contacted several customers claiming they needed to make an immediate payment to avoid disconnection.
- Recently, 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 buying a “pre-paid credit card.”
- Throughout the year, callers across the country reported receiving calls from people who claimed the federal government was providing credits or applying payments to utility bills, and customers could qualify by providing personal information, such as bank account information and Social Security numbers.
While these scams may start with different stories and can involve any utility provider, the ways to avoid falling victim are usually the same. To help protect customers, Attorney General Tom Miller, in partnership with Alliant Energy, Black Hills Energy, The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, the Iowa Utility Association, and MidAmerican Energy, are offering important information to stop scams like these.
“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,” added Miller. “If something just doesn’t seem right, trust your instinct.”
If you have concerns about a call you’ve received, contact your utility provider with a phone number that is listed on your monthly bill or your local phone book, or a number you’ve previously used. 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 the utility.
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 call 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. Anytime a utility employee arrives at your door, require the employee to produce proper identification and do not be afraid of confirming the visit with the utility company.
Customers should report attempted scams to law enforcement. They can also notify the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. The website is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov, and the number is 515-281-5926. Outside of the Des Moines metro area, call toll-free at 1-888-777-4590.
Identity Theft Warning Signs
- Unauthorized charges on your credit card
- Receiving credit cards that you did not seek
- Missing credit card bills
- Calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise you did not buy or services you did not authorize
- Being denied credit or offered credit at less favorable terms for no apparent reason
- Unauthorized credit cards or charges on your credit report
Tips to Protecting Yourself if You Suspect Someone Stole Your Personal Information
- Contact your creditors, including credit card companies, banks, and other lenders, to determine whether there is any suspicious or unauthorized activity that has occurred on your accounts.
- You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. Order it and review it for problems.
- Contact any of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert does not block potential new credit, but places a comment on your history. Creditors should contact you prior to opening a new account. You only need to contact one of the three companies because that company is required to contact the other two. Once you place a fraud alert on your file, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. The credit reporting agencies will send you a letter telling you how to order your free report. When you receive your credit reports, review them carefully and look for any suspicious activity.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit reports. A credit freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors or insurance companies. You, too, will not be able to open new credit while a freeze is in place. Individuals can request that a freeze be temporarily lifted for the purpose of obtaining new credit. (See our website for more information.)
- Remain alert. It’s especially important in the first year following the loss of personal information.
All consumers can obtain a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies, regardless of whether they have been identity theft victims. Call 1-877-322-8228 or request one online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can request a report from one of the reporting companies every four months and carefully review this report for suspicious activity.
Credit Reporting Agencies:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Consumer Protection Division
To file a complaint or get more information, contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Bldg., Des Moines, IA 50319. Call 515-281-5926, or outside Des Moines call toll-free at 1-888-777-4590. Our website is: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.