For Immediate Release
Warmer temperatures lead to increased scam activity
CHICAGO (May 12, 2016) – Temperatures are not the only thing on the rise this spring; warmer temperatures also bring about an increase in unwelcomed solicitations by scam artists. ComEd, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, and North Shore Gas, together with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), are joining forces to warn Chicago-area customers about scam artists posing as utility representatives.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) states that the number of reported scams generally rises with warmer weather. Nationally, there has been an uptick in people claiming to be utility company workers over the past several years. In fact, they are scam artists who pose as utility workers and who usually target customers through door-to-door visits and phone calls.
With the door-to-door scams, someone impersonating a utility worker will visit customers' homes looking to get personal and/or account information, and in some cases enter into the customer's home. Variations of the phone scam include stories that the customer's billing cycle has changed and payment is needed immediately; the account is past due and immediate payment is required to avoid disconnection of service; or that the customer's previous payments were not accepted or processed. In those cases, the scammers instruct customers to buy a prepaid credit card and direct them to call back with the personal identification number (PIN).
"ComEd is committed to the safety of our customers, including keeping them informed of activity that could impact their service or accounts. Over the last several months we have seen an increase in phone impersonations where scam artists call customers claiming they are a utility representative and proceed to swindle unsuspecting victims out of money or financial information," said Fidel Marquez, senior vice president of Governmental and External Affairs, ComEd. "We are pleased to join with other Illinois utilities and the ICC and CUB to amplify the information around this fraudulent activity and raise greater awareness among our customers."
"The Illinois Commerce Commission does not tolerate utility scams and it commends the efforts of ComEd, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas, and CUB for their collaboration on spreading consumer awareness," said Chairman Brien Sheahan. "The ICC also reminds customers that in most cases, utilities are required to provide advance notice prior to disconnection of service and when in doubt customers should call the utility or visit their website to verify their account status and the utility's authorized payment methods. Customers that believe they have been a victim of a scam should contact the ICC's Consumer Services Division at 1-800-524-0795 to report violations or to file a suspicious incident report."
"As the largest natural gas distributor in Illinois, the safety of our people, our pipelines and the public is at the heart of everything we do," said Jim Griffin, vice president of Operations, Nicor Gas. "Coming together to raise awareness and informing customers of these dangerous scammers is critical in putting a stop to these predatory and fraudulent tactics."
"The safety of our customers is the top priority in everything we do; whether it's conducting home inspections, responding to gas leaks or installing new piping," said Eva-Dina Delgado, manager of Government Relations for Peoples Gas/North Shore Gas. "And, protecting our customers from being victims of scams or imposters is equally as important, which is why we regularly educate them on how to avoid becoming a victim."
The utility companies also are reminding customers that representatives from their company always carry proper identification and never ask customers for cash or personal or financial information.
"Utility imposter scams are despicable for two reasons: They take advantage of our fear of losing a service we can't do without, and they slander the reputation of the honest, hard-working, front-line utility employees who keep our service running on a daily basis," CUB Communications Director Jim Chilsen said. "As with any scam, good education and a strong community response are the best weapons against these con artists. Get the facts, protect yourself, and spread the word in your neighborhood: Utility workers don't go door-to-door or call you seeking private financial information."
Anyone who believes he or she has been a target of a phone scam is urged to contact the Illinois Attorney General's office toll free at 1-800-386-5438 (TTY 1-800-964-3013) or visit the Illinois Attorney General's web site at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov and click on the link "Protecting Consumers."
Don't Get Scammed: Customers can avoid being scammed by taking a few precautions:
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