(April 6, 2020)
Xcel Energy has issued warnings about energy disconnection scams to Texas customers in the midst of COVID-19. These scams occur over the phone as the scammer impersonates Xcel Energy agents threatening to disconnect service if bills are left unpaid.
This is not the first time phone scammers have targeted Texas energy customers. These scammers used to go door to door, but many now contact their potential victims over the phone or internet.
While the methods may not be new, this wave of scams comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has a lot of Texans already worried about paying their energy bills. Texas energy customers should be familiar with ways to identify and avoid energy scams, including the following tips:
- Know who your current provider is and the rate you pay for electric service. You can find this information on your energy bills.
- Do not give important information from your bill to anyone who calls you. These scammers would love nothing more than to learn your personal information, especially your account number. Along those lines, do not give any financial information to anyone who calls. Many of the current scammers are threatening to disconnect electric service unless they are paid. Victims of these scams end up paying the scammer rather than their electric provider.
- Ask for proper identification. If someone calls you claiming to work for an energy supplier, they should be able to properly identify themselves. However, one of the safest ways to avoid falling into a scammer’s trap over the phone is to call your energy provider’s customer service line directly. A legitimate agent working will not try to talk you out of calling the customer service number. Prepare and protect yourself by knowing the best way to directly contact your energy supplier.
- Be aware of how your energy provider is reacting to COVID-19. The Texas Public Utilities Commission recently enacted a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan which paused disconnects due to non-payment in deregulated areas. Further, many energy providers (including Xcel Energy) currently offer deferred payment plans and flexible bill pay options.
Many Texans have filed for unemployment or are facing financial hardships as a direct result of COVID-19 – and this has led to anxiety about paying utility bills. Perhaps the most important piece of information to remember during this new wave of phone scams is that disconnects due to non-payment have been suspended by the Public Utility Commission for unemployed or low-income Texans. Additionally, many energy suppliers have implemented similar policies in response to the spread of coronavirus.
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to work for your energy provider and you believe it is a scam, be sure to call your energy provider directly to report the call, contact the local police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.