WATERTOWN — The unsolicited call opens with, “This is an apology ...”
An apology from a stranger with a robot-sounding voice should be the first hint that the call is a scam.
But the voice continues, saying they’re from the local utility service and that the customer being called has been overcharged and that a rebate is in order. The customer is instructed to call a number to claim those funds.
Such calls have been circulating to some Watertown-area households and to other areas like Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a warning in June about the “Questionable rebate check robocalls from retail suppliers.”
The PUC said the calls follow the same basic script:
“This is an apology call from your electric (or natural gas) utility. You got overcharged by your third-party supplier. You will be receiving a rebate check along with a 30% discount on your electric and gas bills. Please press 1 to get your rebate check.”
Virginia J. Limmiatis, spokeswoman for National Grid’s Syracuse area, said the call is another way for scammers to prey upon unsuspecting customers.
“I would love to be able to say they’re unique, but unfortunately, these scammers continue to prey upon customers across the country,” she said in a phone interview. “We’re not unique to this situation.”
She urged utility customers to be educated about such scam calls.
“They have their script, and it’s up to our customers to be able to identify that this is a scam,” Ms. Limmiatis said. “What we’re discovering is that the scammer continues to try unscrupulous ways to convince the person on the other end that they’re legitimate, even down to the phone number. Sometimes the phone number is disguised as a National Grid number and that’s common across the U.S. We just have to continue to educate our customers on identifying that it is a scam.”
Ms. Limmiatis said that gas and electric utility companies, because of their essential nature, are favorite targets of scammers. They may also contact customers via email and attempt to lure recipients into clicking on a link, visiting a malicious website, revealing account information, or calling a phone number.
Some scammers will demand payment, make threats to turn off power within the hour, and try to rush customers into making an immediate payment, often by using pre-paid debit cards.
“National Grid would contact customers with past-due balances, offering payment options, but never payment through a pre-paid debit card,” Ms. Limmiatis said.
However, during the pandemic, National Grid has suspended collection activities for such past-due balances.
“So we’re not going to be reaching out to customers demanding payment,” Ms. Limmiatis said. “We’re meeting our customers where they’re at. We know this is a very, very challenging time, so it’s our way of helping customers through an unprecedented time.”
As part of the collections suspension, National Grid will not charge interest and penalties for late payments and will not perform service disconnections due to non-payment until further notice.
National Grid customers questioning the legitimacy of a call may seek assistance by calling the utility’s customer contact center at 1-800-642-4272.
“If you don’t feel that the call is legitimate, just hang up, call National Grid, and say, ‘Hey, I got this call. Is it legitimate?’ There’s no harm in just hanging up,” Ms. Limmiatis said.
And if by chance you did overpay your National Grid bill?
“It would just come off your next bill,” Ms. Limmiatis said.