In recognition of Utility Scam Awareness Week, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation is reminding customers to be aware of criminals who try to defraud and steal personal identities and information.
Utility Scam Awareness Week, held this year during the week of Nov. 16, is part of an ongoing initiative to increase awareness of the methods scammers often use to victimize and defraud utility customers, explain the warning signs of scammer activity and educate residents and small business owners on how to protect themselves.
The annual observation was introduced by Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a coalition led by more than 140 electric, natural gas and water companies, as well as the industry organizations American Gas Association and Edison Electric Institute. The group, of which Central Hudson is a member, was created to spread awareness of the suspicious behaviors and the evolving tactics that scammers use to target customers. UUAS has successfully taken more than 9,500 toll-free phone numbers used by scammers out of operation. Central Hudson typically reports 2 to 5 of these toll free numbers to UUAS per week.
“Central Hudson takes threats against our customers very seriously, so we participate in this important awareness campaign and collaborate with Utilities United Against Scams to help customers avoid becoming victimized,” said Charles A. Freni, President and C.E.O. of Central Hudson.
Freni noted that utility scams are on the rise, and he explained that anyone from small business owners to senior citizens can fall victim.
“In fact, nearly 60 percent of scams reported nationally affect business customers,” he said. “Education is the best way to stop these fraudulent scams."
Scammers commonly threaten to disconnect customers' utility services if they fail to make an immediate payment – typically using a prepaid card or other non-traceable form of payment purchased at a local retail store. Once the payment is made, the money is gone. Central Hudson would never request a payment by this method.
Customers may report the phone number used by the scammer as indicated on their caller ID display or provided by the caller.
Central Hudson will work with Utilities United Against Scams to have the number de-activated. However, at times scammers may “spoof” Central Hudson’s phone number by making it appear as if the call is coming from the utility company.
“If ever in doubt, hang up the phone and call Central Hudson to verify or report the incident at 845-452-2700,” said Freni, who noted that scammers often provide fraudulent call back numbers. Customers may also wish to note license plates or email addresses, and report the incident to their local police department.
Other signs of a potential scam include:
- Bill Payment or Credit Con: Scammers provide a phony account routing number to pay utility bills, receive a credit, or obtain federal assistance.
- Equipment or Repair Bogus Fee: Scammers call demanding a separate payment to replace or install a utility-related device or meter.
- Overpayment Trick: Scammers call claiming a customer has overpaid their utility bill, and request personal bank account information or a credit card number to facilitate a refund.
- Smishing Scam: Smishing, short for SMS phishing, attempts to trick mobile phone users into giving scammers personal information via text or SMS messages, which can then be used for identity theft.
- Bogus Bills: Scammers send suspicious emails that appear to be a utility bill, potentially featuring the utility's logo and color scheme. Do not click on any links or attachments in any email unless the sender is verified.
Customers can protect themselves by:
- Never purchasing a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Central Hudson does not specify how customers should make a bill payment and offers a variety of payment methods including online, by phone, credit card, automatic bank draft, U.S. mail or in person.
- Hanging up the phone, deleting the email or shutting the door when threatened with immediate disconnection or shutoff of service, if this was the first and only notification. Central Hudson follows state regulations by issuing advance notifications, and never a single call one hour or less before taking action. Customers should also be aware that during the COVID-19 pandemic Central Hudson is suspending residential service suspensions.
- Calling Central Hudson for verification using the number on their bill, (845) 452-2700, and not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.
"Central Hudson follows all regulations in communicating with customers about their accounts," said Freni. "Employees and authorized contractors drive marked vehicles and carry photo identification, and will always display it upon request. If there is ever any doubt about the authenticity of a contact, whether in person, on line or by phone, customers should call Central Hudson for confirmation."
Visit www.CentralHudson.com/ScamCentral for information and to view a video on spotting and avoiding scams; go to www.UtilitiesUnited.org for more information and tips about how customers can protect themselves from scams; and follow Central Hudson on social media for notifications about local scam activity: Facebook.com/CentralHudson and www.Twitter.com/CentralHudson. The Federal Trade Commission’s website also provides additional information about protecting personal information and other information regarding impostor scams.
About Central Hudson
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., is an energy delivery company headquartered in Poughkeepsie, New York. The utility serves approximately 309,000 electric and 84,000 natural gas customers in eight counties of New York State’s Mid-Hudson River Valley, delivering natural gas and electricity in a 2,600-square-mile service territory that extends north from the suburbs of metropolitan New York City to the Capital District around Albany.
About Utilities United Against Scams
Utilities United Against Scams is dedicated to combating utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices, and to implement initiatives to inform and protect customers. The organization and member companies of more than 140 North American electric, water, and natural gas utilities, including Central Hudson, have helped to shut down more than 9,500 toll-free numbers used by scammers against utility customers. The group was awarded the Toll-Free Industry's Fraud Fighter Award in recognition of its advocacy and awareness campaign to stop scams that target electric, water, and natural gas company customers.