Safeguard against utility bill phone scams
We have learned NSBU customers throughout our service territory, both residential and small businesses, have been targeted by scammers claiming to represent the utility. Phone, doorstep and email scammers claiming to be a utility company are nothing new – it happens to all utility companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. However, complaints about this particular scam have DOUBLED nationwide in 2015.
In our service territory, scammers are calling residents and small businesses - especially restaurants - and impersonating utility company staff, claiming to be collecting on late bills. They may even falsify their caller ID information to make it appear as though the call is coming from a local telephone number.
Because we do occasionally contact our customers by phone, here are some tips to distinguish NSBU from a scammer:
If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card, this is a red flag. Prepaid debit cards are like cash and the transactions cannot be reversed.
If you feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call us at the number on your utility bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real UCNSB representative.
How can I know if it’s really the U.C. contacting me?
Occasionally, NSBU MAY call you to discuss your account and/or consumption. If we do, we will provide you with information that only you and NSBU would know in order to validate that our call is legitimate. If, after receiving the information, you are uncomfortable providing personal information by phone, or if you believe the call is a scam, hang up and call us directly at 386-427-1361.
When a payment is overdue, you will received a yellow late notice in the mail, followed by an automated telephone call if the balance is still unpaid. These occur several weeks before your services may be shut off. When you receive the automated telephone call, you will be given the option to press "2" to pay your bill, at which point you will be routed to our telephone payment system. If you are uncomfortable with the call being transferred, you can hang up and call the system directly at 386-424-3199. The day your service is scheduled to be turned off for non-payment, a Customer Service Representative will attempt to contact you by phone to alert you of the pending action and give you payment options, such as our automated payment system.
A Customer Service Representative will never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. If you have any doubts, HANG UP and call us directly at 386-427-1361.
If you or someone you know has a question about whether someone is a legitimate representative of UCNSB, call us at 386-427-1361. Call the police immediately if you believe the person is a scammer.
If I have been targeted, how can I take action:
- Report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Fraud Hotline by calling 1-866-966-7226 or go to www.myfloridalegal.com.
- Let Customer Service staff know you were targeted and check on your utility account status.
- If you gave them a credit card or bank account number, contact your financial institution immediately.
Are there other scams targeting NSBU ratepayers?
You should be aware that some so-called "energy-saving" products and services may not live up to their claims. As consumers pay more attention to energy costs and place an emphasis on “green” living, it is important to be careful with new devices and services appearing in the marketplace. Some have value and others do not. You might lose money on purchases of some alleged energy-saving devices. You may not get the service that you are paying for. Some products or services in the marketplace may not work or the savings may be exaggerated. In some cases the device or technology may be misapplied.
What do I need to know to avoid becoming a victim?
Get a second quote. Vendors can make it sound like they are the only ones who have a particular product or service. Most likely, this isn’t true. And prices can vary significantly from vendor to vendor. If it sounds too good to be true, proceed with much caution. Look for independent third-party validation such as Consumer Reports testing and product reviews as well as university and government agency reports. Vendor-supplied testimonial letters tend to be biased in favor of the vendor and application proposed. Frequently, valid technical concerns and product limitations go unmentioned in testimonial letters.
What products and services should I be wary of?
- Exaggerated Refund Claims – Be wary of vendors who say they are the only one who can get you a refund from NSBU. This is not true. No refund from NSBU is tied to a particular vendor. All customers who meet eligibility requirements can receive a rebate. Watch out to make sure a vendor does not put the refund in the price equation for the product or service you are buying. Sometimes, this is done to make it appear the money is a savings coming to you through the vendor, when it is not. NSBU refunds are issued directly to customers as a credit on their utility account.
- Transient Voltage Surge Protection (TVSP)—Surge protection is important to protect electronics from damage from surges caused by lightning or equipment being switched on and off. The type of voltage surges these devices protect from lasts a few milliseconds and any incidental savings which may occur would be insignificant. Surge protectors are protective devices, not energy-saving devices.
- “Black box device” is a phrase used to describe a range of products that tout some new proprietary technology to save energy. Often, these devices target motors and may claim to condition, filter or control your appliance motor to reduce energy consumption. Frequently, you plug your appliance into the device or wire it in front of the motor to get the desired results. Be aware that these devices may void the warranty on your appliance. A qualified electrical engineer can provide guidance on this type of device. As a sales technique, the “black box” approach allows vendors to avoid answering technical questions and concerns about the product application. Frequently, the black box devices use old, widely distributed technology. Worse yet, some have no inherent value and may waste energy or damage equipment.
- Power factor (PF) correction—Power factor correction devices typically use capacitors to reduce line current. Sometimes vendors try to give the impression that reducing current by perhaps 10-20 percent or more will lead to the same reduction in utility bills. This is not true. Most electrical devices require energy to be temporarily stored in magnetic and electric fields. This energy is only stored and then returned to the utility. It is not used and, since utilities only charge customers for the power that they actually use, there is no bill reduction from improvements to the power factor. Generally, only large industrial customers with large inductive or capacitive loads are metered and billed for having poor power factors.
- “Insulating” paints—Makers of these paints often claim very large radiant heat reduction, but do not address convection or conductive heat gain or loss. Generally, heat rejection from walls is a small percentage of the heat transfer in a home, so savings tend to be small to moderate in nature.
- Power filtering devices—These devices may filter electromagnetic field, radio frequency or harmonics. These filters have no impact on electric consumption for residential or small commercial customers. Harmonic filters can provide some benefits to larger commercial and industrial customers, but these filters must be part of an integrated facilities plan to control harmonics in a plant distribution system.
- Beware of sales pitches through unsolicited letters and phone calls that promise to save energy and big bucks by offering you an energy audit. Sometimes these companies find “problems” with your home and then use a hard sales pitch to sell you a product or service they claim will fix the problem. Or they may say you have to act immediately to get a federal rebate or tax credit that is only available through them. Check with NSBU if you have any questions. Even if the offer is legitimate, read all the fine print before you sign anything. If there are legitimate energy conservation issues in your home, it is important to get more than one quote for the work.
- There are no free lunches! Some devices claim to create energy through mysterious means. Be highly skeptical—the laws of physics cannot be broken. Do your research before you buy.
What are my options for finding quality, unbiased information?
There are several unbiased sources of information. Here are some examples:
- Consumer Reports— http://www.consumerreports.org
- Better Business Bureau— http://centralflorida.bbb.org
- FL Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services— http://www.freshfromflorida.com
To learn more useful ways to save:
- Energy Information Center— http://www.eere.energy.gov
- Energy and water saving measures—http://www.ucnsb.org