The Covid-19 virus outbreak has created many opportunities for thieves and scammers to work their way into our wallets and pocketbooks. The Michigan Public Service Commission is warning about yet another. This one involves scammers attempting to get your money through threats to cut off your utilities.

The Public Service Commission staff reports they are hearing from a growing number of customers Michigan utility companies about attempted scams the past few weeks.  One of the more common situations is where the scammers call potential victims on the phone and demand immediate payment for an outstanding balance.  Of course, there is no valid outstanding balance. And certainly, none that the scammers have a legitimate claim to collecting.

In some cases, the scammers are using specialized technical equipment to make it appear the number and name that shows up on potential victim’s caller ID looks like a valid utility company call. That practice, called “spoofing” is happening more and more.

The Customer Assistance Division of the department has casefiles on hand where scammers have tried to get potential victims to pay claimed account balances with everything from Bitcoin, to gift cards and prepaid debit cards, to standard credit cards.

The commission is trying to make sure all utility customers in Michigan are aware that the utilities simply do not make threatening calls demanding immediate payment and warning of a service cutoff within hours. Any type of approach like that should be enough to let you know something is not right.

The MPSC has some general guidelines posted on its scam warning page that include utility companies do not:

-Endorse or require a prepaid debit card, gift card, Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency for payments;

-Collect payment at customers’ homes or businesses; or

-Ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information by phone.

-In addition, utility companies do not use coercive tactics to try to get into your home. They require employees or contractors to always wear a company identification badge that the employees will be glad to show if asked. If you get a threatening call of any sort about your utility service you are advised to hang up and call your utility right away so you know who you are talking with to review any potential issues. You can also file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, and the Federal Trade Commission by phone at 877-382-4357.

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