A new scam making the rounds this year is, like most, an update of a much older fraud. Utility scams have been victimizing people for years by pretending to be from your local utility company. They usually either threaten to shut down your electric or heating service, hoping to get a payment out of you right away, or they offer to help you lower or pay your bill in the hope of acquiring account numbers and other useful personal information.
In the past these scams relied upon having the victim purchase a prepaid debit or gift card, wire money, or use MoneyGram or Western Union.
This year they are demanding payment via Bitcoin and through Bitcoin ATMs.
If you receive a call or email threatening to shut off your utility service:
STOP. Simply hang up and take a breath. Do not answer the phone for a while.
Find your last utility bill or the website of your utility company and call them for a status on your account. Legitimate utility companies will not induce panic and will not demand immediate payment over the phone or via unusual methods.
Do NOT use Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency for any urgent payment request
Report this scam to your utility company and local police (more ways here)
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are irreversible once sent, so you need to take your time to ensure the destination is legitimate and reputable before sending any payment. Mainstream utility companies and major retailers and online brands (with few exceptions) are NOT going to accept bitcoin at all. Those who do accept bitcoin will do so only through their official websites and will not send you a QR code via email or text.
- A local station in Hawaii recently covered this Bitcoin-based update of the utility fraud
- Call-profile company Hiya labeled this as the "Most Consistent Scam of the Year" for 2017
- In 2016, over 100 North American utility companies came together to form Utilities United Against Scams--an organization with good resources on protecting yourself from a utility scam and a great list of ways to report utility scams
- The FTC also has information about the utility scam and a direct link to report with them