It is estimated Canadians lost over $290 million to scam artists from 2014 to 2016. Fraudsters use a variety of techniques to trick people into giving them confidential data such as usernames, passwords, credit cards details and banking information. Many of them pose as individuals from trustworthy organizations like Alectra Utilities.
Over the past few years, Alectra and other electric utilities in Ontario, have noticed a spike in phishing scams utilizing phone, texting and home inspections.
One of the most common phishing scams is being conducted over the telephone in which electricity customers are threatened with having their electrical service disconnected if they do not provide immediate payment through a cheque cashing service. The scheme involves customers receiving fraudulent calls from people claiming to be utility employees and instructing customers to visit a cheque cashing service to make hydro bill payments. In a similar phone scam, both residential and business customers are asked to purchase pre-paid credit cards in amounts claimed to be outstanding on their electricity bills, and told to call a specific phone number to provide the card as well as a personal identification number (PIN) for payment on their account.
If you believe you are being targeted by a phishing telephone call, remember to not provide any confidential or personal information including your account number, try to collect as much information as you can about the caller, and report the incident to the utility’s Customer Service department.
Ontario utility customers have recently been alerted to a texting scam in which they are being falsely informed of receiving a credit from the utility and are subsequently prompted to click an embedded link within the message. The scheme involves customers receiving fraudulent texts from anonymous numbers claiming to represent the utility. The texts state that in order to claim the credit, customers should follow a link that redirects them to choose their financial institution.
If you receive a suspicious text message such as this do not click on any of the links within the text message, do not provide any personal information, and call the utility’s Customer Service department to report the incident.
Home Inspection Scam
Not all phishing scams happen through phone calls, text messages, or emails. Phishing scams can also occur in person. This particular scheme involves people going door-to-door claiming to represent the utility and requesting permission to enter customers’ homes. It has been reported that these fraudsters are offering energy conservation rebates on furnaces, water heaters or other financial incentives. They claim a home inspection is required in order for the customer to qualify for these incentives. These claims are false and violate regulations that have been put in place by the Ontario Energy Board to protect Ontario energy consumers.
If someone knocks on your door claiming to represent the utility and asking for permission to enter your home, always ask to see identification and a business card with the company’s information. If you are unsure, do not let them in and call the utility to verify.
Know the signs
Phishing scams can be avoided if you are aware of the signs and always follow your intuition when you feel something is not quite right.
If feel you are being subjected to a phishing scam, we advise the following:
- Do not provide any personal information including banking information, and your account number
- Do no click on an suspicious links
- Always ask to see identification and business card for door-to-door visits
- Do not sign any contracts at the door
- Report the incident to the utility’s Customer Service Department
If you believe you may have been a victim of fraud or theft, please contact your local police department to report the incident.