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How to Protect Your Utility Customers From Scams

Posted on Jun 10, 2021 12:00:00 PM

In the utility landscape, the energy consumers will often have to reach out to their utility provider for a number of reasons. Perhaps they need to update some information on their account profile, or maybe they are looking for outage updates, or quite simply, the consumer wants to know why their bill is so high.

In most cases, interactions between the utility provider and customer often revolve around billing and payment

Consumers who have had (or think they’ve had) an issue with their billing and payment, may have to give their utility provider a call and speak to a customer service representative. It can be an inconvenience for the consumer as well as the utility, but in most cases it will resolve the issue.

These interactions are pleasant and effective for the consumer, and they are typically left satisfied with the outcome (even if a more effective communication method such as a utility customer portal could have been used to make it easier for both parties).

So, imagine a customers’ shock when a “utility provider” gets in touch with them only to leave a threatening message about their bill payments or having their utility cut off. In this scenario, the customer is likely falling for a scam.

As a utility provider, it’s your job to protect your customer’s information and make them feel safe,  and SilverBlaze has the perfect customer engagement solution to help you do just that. Before we get into that, let’s first take a look at some of the most common utility scams. 

Common Utility Customer Scams

Many electric, water and natural gas customers throughout North America are being targeted by imposter utility scams each day, according to Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS).

In fact, UUAS (a consortium of 146 US and Canadian electric, water and natural gas utility providers) has succeeded in removingmore than 10,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers against utility customers to date.

According to UUAS, these are the most common utility scams and tactics: 

The most common tactics:

  • Fraudulent phone numbers - Scammers are claiming the phone number is different from the number listed on the utility bill due to telework status. 
  • Fraudulent emails and texts - Scammers are using written correspondence to portray themselves as a utility provider.
  • Door-to-door imposters - Scammers are claiming they are “responding to reports that scammers are in the neighbourhood.”

The most common scams:

  • Disconnection threat - The utility or government representative impostor aggressively tells the customers that their account is past due and service will be disconnected if immediate payment is not made. They typically demand a prepaid debit card or another non-refundable form of payment.
  • Meter payment - The caller or in-person scammer instructs the customer to pay with cash or a prepaid debit card to cover the costs of a new meter or a meter upgrade. 
  • Information request - The caller insists that a recent payment encountered a system “glitch” or “error” and was not completed. The scammer then asks the customer to make a (false) payment using a prepaid debit card or by providing personal account information. 

“Even in the middle of a pandemic that is affecting everyone and causing economic hardship for many, we still are dealing with scammers who are preying on families and small businesses,” said Monica Martinez, Executive Director of UUAS in a recent press release. 

“UUAS is working directly with utility companies to help educate customers so they can be aware of the dangers of utility scams and avoid them during these trying times.”

How can you protect your customers from utility scams?

The best way to protect your customers from falling prey to utility scams is to centralize all of your customer interactions onto one trusted platform. That’s where a utility customer portal comes in. 

A customer portal is a secure website or mobile application that allows users to manage their entire utility account without having to speak to a customer service representative. From a mobile application or web browser, customers can log in to their utility account to update account information, make payments, monitor transactions, customize  outage notifications to their device(s), manage their utility usage, submit a service request, amongst many other online customer facing features.

This platform offers customers a self-service solution  that helps the customers better understand their consumption and usage patterns to ultimately educate themselves and answer their own queries  - with the option to reach out to a CSR if needed. The digital aspect of the customer portal enables a utility to be operational 24/7/365, escaping the mundane 9-5 business model that utility customers may be forced to adhere by. 

So, how does this protect your utility customers from scams? It’s simple, all the information they need is now stored in one trusted, secure location!

Primarily having all communications, transactions, and analytics with your customer  going through your customer portal, customers are now able to validate between legitimate utility interactions or suspicious ones. Instead of worrying about those suspicious phone calls and phishing emails, customers will instinctively go to your customer portal to retrieve and cross-reference any information.

Want to learn more about the benefits of a utility customer portal? - Contact SilverBlaze today. Our team would love to give you a demo of our award-winning self-service customer portal that has been specifically designed for utility providers.

Topics: Customer Engagement, Customer Service