In 2021, imposter scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) peaked above 300,000 in the first quarter. Utility imposter scams were the third-most common scam category according to consumer claims tracked by the FTC. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) describes common scams involving utility company imposters threatening to shut off services if payment is not immediately collected. According to the BBB, utility scam victims experience a median financial loss of $500.
In one type of scam, utility imposters contact customers by knocking on their door, posing as a utility representative collecting payment or servicing equipment. This potentially allows the scammer access to the property and puts the customer at risk for theft of their identity or valuables. The largest water utility in the United States, American Water, cautions customers that home visits by scammers can be very convincing. Scammers may show up in a "uniform" with what appears to be the utility's logo, claiming they are responding to a service request or issue in the customer's area.
Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) represents a consortium of 150 US and Canadian electric, water, and gas utilities. It works to reduce the number of scams targeting utility customers. During March 2021, the UUAS recognized National Consumer Protection Week by educating customers on how to avoid becoming utility scam victims. The UUAS warned of increased scams throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and flagged the egregious tactic of door-to-door imposters claiming that they are responding to reports of scammers in a neighborhood.
Service providers and their customers have enough on their plates without having to worry about utility scams.
Leveraging technology and automation can improve communication and situational awareness with utility customers. Daupler RMS offers a customer-facing portal to collect and share information about service requests and incident response activities.
When a customer reports an issue, they receive a link to a digital incident report that can be accessed from their computer or mobile device. The customer can add information, such as photos, corrections, or updates to the initial report. Once a staff member or crew is dispatched, the incident report provides details that include estimated arrival time and staff name, photo, and vehicle information. This ensures the customer knows exactly what to expect.
Transparency throughout the response process enhances customer safety, and it allows the customer to stay informed without speaking directly to a representative. The most common prevention tips from consumer protection advocates and utility companies include verifying authorized utility workers with company identification and company-marked vehicles. In the UUAS Consumer's Guide to Imposter Utility Scams, the primary in-person scam prevention tips are confirming company ID, logo, and the existence of a company-scheduled visit.
Daupler empowers utility companies and their customers to verify identity with these protective measures through the customer portal. Information can be easily updated by the utility, and if a customer has any questions or concerns, contact details are provided so customers can confirm legitimacy of authorized personnel directly with a service provider. By syncing this reporting feature with dispatch activity already taking place in the back office, all stakeholders have access to the same record detailing the utility's response efforts. From management to customer care representatives to the response crews and the customer, everyone can do their part to prevent imposter scams.