Authorities say a couple of telephone scams targeting homeowners and renters over their utility bills have been growing in popularity recently. One such scam involves a caller telling a homeowner they are eligible for a government program to lower their utility bills, and asks for social security or credit card numbers to enroll them in the program. In another, the caller threatens to turn off the power unless the homeowner pays an "overdue" bill, by sending gift cards or money orders which cannot be traced.
As MarketWatch found, utility-related scam calls have jumped more than a hundred percent in the past year. If the caller can get away with personal financial information, they could steal the homeowner's identity and open credit accounts in their name. If homeowners are uncertain about the origin of such calls, it's best to hang up and call their utility company directly, to determine if the offer or threat is real. They should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or their state's attorney general's office.
To help your viewers/readers/listeners understand more about the most current scams, talk with your state's attorney general's office, your area Better Business Bureau the local Senior Federation or your local police. They can explain how the scams work and how consumers can protect themselves.
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Paul Berry of Radio America entered the 2016 NEFE/RTDNA awards contest with his ongoing series of reports on personal finance issues.