Scammers target people who owe money on electricity, gas

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Scammers are always ready to take advantage of your misfortune.

At a time when customers are facing disconnection for non-payment of utility bills, Public Service Electric & Gas is warning customers of utility scams that threaten to immediately cut service unless people don’t pay right away.

“Scammers continue to adapt and develop increasingly sophisticated tactics to take advantage of our customers,” Jane Bergen, chief billing officer for PSE&G, said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of New Jersey customers who are behind on their utility bills risk having their natural gas or electric service cut off after March 15, the day the winter blackout moratorium ends. service.

Collectively, residential customers owed more than $661.1 million in electricity and natural gas charges in January, according to state figures. Utilities are urging customers to contact them to make payment arrangements or enroll in programs to help them pay.

Utilities have already sent out disconnect notices and will resume collection activities after March 15.

But throughout the pandemic, scammers have increased calling, texting and emailing, in-person tactics, PSE&G said. And the scammers kept calling utility customers and demanding immediate payment to avoid disconnection of service.

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Are you worried that your service will be cut off? Here’s how to tell if a scammer is on the phone.

The scam: A caller may tell you that your bill is overdue and your service will be disconnected, usually within an hour, if payment is not made immediately.

Reality: PSE&G indicates that it will not send a single notification to a customer one hour before your service is cut. If you experience a disconnect, you will have received multiple notifications from the utility, including notices about bills, emails, letters and phone calls regarding your account, spokeswoman Rebecca Mazzarella said. A PSE&G representative will come to your home and talk to you about payment terms and programs before you are disconnected as a last resort, she said.

A spokesperson for New Jersey Natural Gas said the utility is sending a 10-day disconnection notice to the account holder with energy assistance information. It is followed by an automated reminder phone call and a visit from a representative of the New Jersey natural gas field, spokesman Michael Kinney said.

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The scam: A fraudster will demand immediate payment using a prepaid card, gift card or even Bitcoin. And they may call back multiple times, saying the payment needs to be resubmitted due to an error. You will be reimbursed, they say. (You won’t.)

Reality: Forget bitcoin. Utilities do not accept cryptocurrency payments, Visa gift cards, prepaid debit cards, or money transfers. They also won’t ask you to use a payment app like Venmo or Zelle.

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The scam: A scammer may even show up at your home or business, show some kind of fake ID, and pretend to be a utility bill collector. They may ask for personal information, including your account number or social security number, PSE&G said. (Don’t give them anything.)

Reality: A utility representative will have a company ID card and uniform and drive a company car bearing the utility logo. Take a good look at the ID and if you have any questions, call your utility’s business office using the number on your bill.

David P. Willis, an award-winning business writer, has covered business and consumer news at the Asbury Park Press for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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