CONSUMER ALERT - NYS DIVISION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION WARNS ABOUT CALLERS POSING AS UTILITY EMPLOYEES
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection is alerting consumers to a scam where people claiming to represent an electric, gas or water company – whether the consumer is a customer of theirs or not - ask for consumer information, including account numbers, social security numbers, and dates of birth, and request payment for alleged past-due bills.
The scammers also send emails seeking the same information and, in some instances, have visited targets’ homes. The scam has now transitioned to communities where English is less prevalent, with callers speaking in the target’s native language, including Spanish and Chinese.
“Unfortunately, utility scams periodically pop up throughout the year, but scammers are now targeting vulnerable and limited English-speaking communities that may not be aware of these nefarious tactics,” said New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Division of Consumer Protection. “If you are called or approached by someone purporting to be from a utility company and seeking payment, take steps protect yourself.”
To prevent falling victim to these recent scams, take note of the following tips:
Confirm the caller. Consumers should not rely on the number that comes up on their phone. Callers can “spoof” the number to look like a local utility company. If someone has contacted an individual and they are suspicious, they should hang up and go directly to the official website for the utility company or call the number on their utility bill to confirm whether there is a problem with their account.
Don’t give the caller information. Consumers should never give out or confirm sensitive information, including utility account numbers, credit card numbers, or Social Security numbers unless they are 100 percent sure they know who they are dealing with.
Utility companies will not shut off utilities via the phone. Real utility companies issue several disconnection warnings before shutting off utilities and they never demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment.
Utility companies do not ask for payment via gift cards, Green Dot Money-Pak, bitcoin, or wire transfer. Gift cards and bitcoin allow scammers to get money without anyone tracking them. Once an individual gives them the number, they can take the full value without anyone knowing who they are. If someone on the phone asks an individual to buy a gift card and call them back with the number, transfer money with bitcoin, wire transfer, or other non-traceable payment, it is a scam.
Don’t let them in before confirming. All utility company employees carry credentials. If someone requesting entry into a home or place of business does not show a valid ID card, don’t let that person in. If they do show credentials, the individual should call the utility company to confirm those credentials.
Consumers can also file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection. The New York State Division of Consumer Protection investigates Do Not Call violations and provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via @NYSConsumer or www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.
The Sweetheart Scam -
Beware of the Sweetheart Scam. Many older adults are falling victim to this scam. In 2013 there were 6,412 reports of sweetheart scams costing victims close to $82 million. Older people are especially at risk for fraud. Americans 65 and up are more likely to be targeted by con artists and more likely to lose money.
Sweetheart scams can happen on the Internet or in person. Con artists scour online dating sites, social media accounts and chat threads searching for targets. Those recently divorced or widowed can be especially vulnerable.
The sweetheart scam seduces victims into thinking they are in a whirlwind romance. Con artists pretend to want a romantic relationship to swindle the person. They use persuasion and emotional blackmail to hook and reel in a target.
Once the relationship is established, the criminal fabricates a crisis. A scammer might say he or she needs an operation or cash to visit the victim. Many victims are often embarrassed to come forward.
This along with other scams may be reported to the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-382-4357, or to file complaint online you may visit
If you feel you are in immediate danger or experienced theft, please contact your local police.
September 18, 2018
NEW YORK — Attorney General Barbara Underwood issued a recent alert to New Yorkers about the “grandparent scam,” a common phone scam that targets senior citizens with calls from fraudsters that pose as a grandchild of the victim.
Underwood also shared a public service announcement that explains how the scam works and offers tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.
“Stealing from seniors by exploiting their love for their grandchildren is despicable,” Underwood said in a press release. “I urge New Yorkers to be on the alert for this scam, and protect yourself and your family by following our tips."
Underwood offers the following tips to protect against the grandparent scam:
Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking you to send money.
Never purchase pre-paid debit cards or gift cards for the purpose of transferring money.
Develop a secret code or "password" with family members that can be used to verify the identity of family members over the phone.
Ask a question that only the real grandchild would know the answer to, such as, “What was the name of your first pet?”
Verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before sending money.
Underwood also shared a public service announcement featuring the “Grandkids Against the Grandparent Scam” initiative, in which high school students are enlisted to warn their parents and grandparents about the scam. The PSA features television personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who shares her experience about almost falling victim to the scam.
In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 18,912 complaints of individuals impersonating family members and friends, up from 15,076 in 2016, the release said.
New Yorkers who have been targeted by this scam are urged to call the Attorney General's consumer helpline at 1-800-771-7755.