Customer Scams & Fraud
American Water is responsible for more than just providing safe and reliable water and wastewater service to customers and communities in which we serve. We place customers at the center of everything we do.
American Water wants to inform and educate customers about different types of criminals, as well as what to look out for if one attempts to scam them.
The Federal Trade Commission reported that consumers lost a total of $328 million to imposter scams in 2017—more than any other type of fraud. Imposter scams were also the third-most common consumer complaint, after identity theft and debt collection.
Types of Utility Scammers
According to a recent report published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a scam is reported every 15 minutes. And of the 30 different types of scams tracked and categorized, utility-scam victims were found to have a median financial loss of $500.
- Utility imposters typically use three methods to scam customers:
- Phone: Technology has interfered with the authenticity of caller ID. Companies can now disguise their telephone number as a local one, often tricking customers into believing that the call is coming from their local utility provider—and that is just the first step. Once the scammer has their “in,” the call will usually go one of six ways. Scammers will: threaten disconnection of service, demand payment for replacement or installation of equipment, claim overpayment, provide a bogus account for payment, make a power restoration request or attempt to identity theft via text messaging.
- In Person: Imposters show up dressed in “uniform” with your utility provider’s logo, claiming that they received a service request and that they are required to do an inspection or audit, and/or that there is a local leak.
- Internet: Scammers send emails requesting Social Security numbers and other confidential personal information. These emails come in many forms, such as a phony bill or an employment offer.
There is No Discrimination in Scamming
You might think senior citizens are a scammer’s easiest victims. But, consumers over age 70 actually reported falling victim to fraud less often than consumers in their twenties. However, people age 80 and older who did fall victim to fraud lost more money than younger victims—a median amount of $1,092 versus $400 for consumers ages 20 to 29. The bottom line is that everyone, of every demographic, is at risk.
So, What Can Be Done?
- There are a number of safety precautions that can be taken to guard against utility imposters, regardless of what method they use to strike.
- Keep personal information personal. Don’t share your Social Security number, date of birth, banking or credit card information, and/or account number with anyone, especially someone claiming to be an employee of one of your utility providers.
- Ask questions. Don’t be discouraged by annoyed callers, as that’s often a sign of suspicious activity.
- Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t answer the door to someone you don’t know. If you do answer the door, ask for ID. Delete strange emails and text messages. Don’t download or engage with random phone apps or web links. If you’re skeptical about a caller, hang up.
- When in doubt, don’t. Refrain from making or confirming any payments to suspicious parties via phone, email or even in person. The only time you should make a payment is if you initiated the call and if it is through a verified method by your utility company.
If someone attempts a utility scam, it’s important to report them to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as well as to local law-enforcement authorities.
American Water also recommends customers take the following steps to ensure their safety against imposters:
- Ask for proper identification. Do not open the door to anyone who cannot provide a photo ID badge.
- Thoroughly inspect the identification badge. The front of an American Water ID badge will display the person's picture and the company's logo.
- Check the service person's vehicle. All American Water vehicles have the company's logo clearly displayed on the side.
- If there is still some question about the person's identity, the customer should contact the company to confirm if service work is scheduled in the area.