“Ask for ID” and Other Ways Utilities Can Help Customers Avoid Fraudsters

It starts innocently enough, usually with a polite knock at the door or a quick greeting outside. But the smile beneath that yellow hard hat could belong to someone who is anything but innocent. In fact, it could belong to a criminal. Reports of fraudsters posing as utility workers have become increasingly common over the years. These nefarious individuals seek out new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting customers.

What’s at stake for someone who falls for one of these scams? The outcome includes the theft of valuable goods or even the customer’s identity. Customers are being tricked into paying for unnecessary repairs or erroneous bills. Also, a loss of privacy and sense of security is another issue. As a utility company, your customers put their trust in you to safely deliver a service, and part of that safety involves putting plans in place that help your customers avoid situations such as these.

Here are a few proactive strategies utility companies should deploy to reinforce customer safety.

 Confirm account numbers over the phone

Phone scams are popular among fraudsters. The customer and the person running the con don’t have to be located in the same place. The fraudster pretends to be the utility company saying that one’s service is being terminated and trick customers into providing their credit card information. You should make it a priority for the rep on the phone to always supply the customer’s account number in advance of taking payments.  All in an effort to instill customer confidence.

Travel in company vehicles

One of the biggest—and most obvious—differentiators between a fraudster and a legitimate utility worker is the vehicle they travel in. Technicians should always travel to and from customers’ homes in branded fleet vehicles. The vehicle should clearly display the company name and a phone number and lets customers know that the person at their door is legitimate. Also, the mere presence of the vehicle in your driveway could be enough to keep a fraudster away.

Present yourself as an employee

In addition to the vehicle, personal appearance is another legitimizer. Standard practice for utility employees should dress in a clean uniform. They also should carry photo identification at all times. To take it a step further, you should encourage your customers to ask for ID whenever approached.

 Better communicate with your customers

Some customers have a close-knit relationship with utility companies and it’s likely that they wouldn’t think twice about a knock on the door. But as Utility Dive reports, they probably should. In addition to instituting all of the above tips, don’t hesitate to educate your customers about the danger of these scams. How actions like asking for ID or calling the company to confirm a visit are well within their rights as customers. Additionally, you should call, email, or text customers both before appointments (reminding them of an upcoming visit) and after appointments (confirmation that their needs were met). A customer who is alert and educated is surely less likely to fall victim to a scam.

Related: Smart Meters: A Boon for Utilities and Their Customers

Being a consumer in today’s climate can be challenging. Especially given the sophistication that fraudsters have developed. However, as their trusted utility company, you can play a part in reducing some of that risk.

Utility Partners of America has provided partnership insights and operational expertise to utilities and energy cooperatives for more than two decades. If you’d like to see how we may be able to help your business, contact us today.