Beware utility scams following severe weather

TOLEDO, OH (Press Release) - When severe weather strikes, utility outages often are par for the course. Unfortunately, utility scams are becoming part of the drill, too.

Here's how the scam works: Someone claiming to be with your local utility company comes around during an outage and offers to reconnect your service for a cash payment. Sure, you think it's a bit odd that they're asking for cash, but maybe the company's power is out, too, and they can't operate the computers to process payments. Besides, the person looks and sounds legitimate, and you really need your service turned on.

So you pay… and you wait. Hours later: no lights, no cable. No heat or water. What's more, there's no sign of the person whom you thought might have been the ray of light in your dark hours. Or, maybe your services come back on — but you see that your neighbors' service is on, too. Eventually, the utility company restores the service, not the so-called "representative" who took your money.

Scam artists are adept at getting people at their most vulnerable moments. Here are a few tips that can help you avoid getting cheated by utility turn-on scams.

• Don't pay cash to anyone who comes to your home offering "turn-on" services without notice from the company. Even if the person has a uniform or shows what they claim is an ID from the utility company, they could be a con artist. Employees of legitimate utilities don't ask for cash. Typically, a company will bill you for services if a charge is even applicable.

• Most legitimate companies won't send someone to your home to provide a service without advising you first.

• If someone shows up at your house unexpectedly and claims to work for a utility, call the company and confirm that it authorized the person to visit your home.
Be sure to learn about other types of utility scams. And if you've been contacted by someone claiming to be able to turn on your service for a cash payment, file a complaint with the FTC and your state consumer protection agency.

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