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Utility customers in Pennsylvania should be on the lookout for scams.
The Philly-area electric and gas utility PECO typically sees an uptick in scams targeting its customers January through April, said spokesperson Tom Brubaker.
“We see a lot of calls to customers typically demanding payment or their service will be discontinued,” Brubaker said. “It’s really shameful because we have customers that are in vulnerable situations with as cold as it is outside.”
An increasingly common scamming tactic is a phone call from a number with a fake caller ID that reads “PECO,” Brubaker said.
“So a customer may pick up the phone, believe it’s PECO because of what’s appearing on their phone,” he said. “However, it is a fraudster looking to use the tactic to pocket some quick cash.”
Scammers often try to use a sense of urgency to get people to act without thinking.
“There’s [some] reason why you need to act right now, and why it’s impossible for you to try to confirm … or double check what’s going on,” said Pennsylvania Utility Commission spokesperson Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.
Instead, take the time to verify that the request is legitimate, by logging into your online account or calling your utility directly. If a person is at your door claiming to be with your utility, ask to see a photo ID.
Other red flags include a request to pay your utility bills with cryptocurrency or gift cards, Brubaker said.
Any claim that your service will be terminated unless you pay immediately is likely fraudulent, because Pennsylvania utilities are required to provide a 10-day notice to customers before terminating their service. Pennsylvania utilities also cannot terminate low-income customers for nonpayment during the winter months without permission from the PUC.
Scammers often take advantage of the current situation, Hagen-Frederiksen said. This can mean offering supposedly cheaper energy options when prices are high, or promising to reconnect you faster during a power outage if you pay a fee.
“Disregard the story that they’re telling, because the story will change,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “But in general the mechanism for the scam is going to stay the same: They either want access to your house, because they’re trying to steal your stuff, or they want access to your financial information because they’re trying to steal your money.”
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