CADILLAC —The Michigan Public Service Commission is urging utility customers to be on alert as complaints about phone scams are on the rise.
On Tuesday, the MPSC said it has been hearing from utility companies about the increase in complaints where callers threaten shutoffs if customers don’t take immediate actions that include making payments using gift cards, Bitcoin or other forms of payment.
The increase in complaints also includes instances where callers manipulate caller ID to make it appear as if a utility company is making the call. This deliberate falsification is called Caller ID spoofing, according to the MPSC. Utilities report the scammers also appear to be targeting seniors and other vulnerable residential customers along with schools.
Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern said the company would never demand payment over the phone. He also said if things don’t sound right, customers should hang up and call the utility company at 800-477-5050 and their local law enforcement agency.
“We work together with law enforcement to track activity and hopefully put these scammers out of business,‘ he said.
Year to date, Morgenstern said customers have unknowingly paid scammers $44,000, which is up from $35,000 in 2018. He said with just under two weeks left in November and all of December, it is possible that number could increase.
On average Morgenstern said customers unknowingly fall victim to scammers at a rate of a few thousand dollars a month but the highest amount paid to scammers was in June at $11,000. In October, scammers took $3,600 while through the end of last week that number was $4,900 for November.
Morgenstern said when it comes to Consumers Energy, the company will never call, demand payment or threaten the customer with their service being shut off if they don’t pay.
“We don’t call and demand payment like that. We give them written notice and ample time,‘ he said. “We will work with you. We have payment programs, shut off protection and a number of ways to work with you.‘
The MPSC reminds utility customers to keep their guard up against scams. Utility companies never call customers with bullying tactics such as demanding immediate payment to keep services from being shut off in a matter of hours.
The MPSC asks customers to be mindful to whom they provide their account numbers or personal information such as name, address, date of birth or Social Security number. If you suspect the call may be fraudulent, you should hang up and call your utility right away at the phone number on your most recent bill and ask to speak with a customer service representative.
Utility customers who have mistakenly provided bank account information to someone they suspect might have been an impostor should call their bank and local police department. They also may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at www.michigan.gov/ag and the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357.