FBI Portland
Beth Anne Steele
(503) 460-8099
June 25, 2019

Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Utility Fraud

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against utility fraud.

The weather is heating up, and your utility bills will likely rise with the temperatures this summer. This is a good time for us to give you a reminder about what to expect—and not expect—from your regional power provider when it comes to those big bills.

One very common scam is for a person or small business to receive a message from a fraudster claiming to be from a utility. He claims you are way behind on your bill, and you have a very short period of time—maybe an hour or less—to pay up. If you do not, he will shut off your power.

He will often tell you that you can rectify the situation with a quick payment, preferably by gift card. He will demand that you get the card, call him back and read the card number and PIN to him quickly. Once done, he can empty that card out in minutes. The card is like cash—once it is gone, it is almost always gone for good.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • If someone claims to be from a utility threatening to disconnect you, tell the person you are going to hang up and call customer service back. Look for the real number on a recent bill or on the company’s webpage. Do not use whatever number the person gives.
  • Know that no legitimate utility will give you a single notice before shut-off, particularly by phone or text.
  • No legitimate utility will demand gift cards as payment.
  • Most utilities will work with you for payments if you give them a call.

If you have been victimized by this online scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.