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Don’t let Scammers Get the Upper Hand at Your Utility

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Sep 23, 2022
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It struck me today how much scammers have become a part of everyday life.

For example, today I received two phone calls about problems with an Amazon delivery and how my account is going to be closed. Thing is, I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon in weeks.

My email is full of requests from Nigerian princes needing to move money, inquiries about my suddenly endangered PayPal and Netflix accounts and pitches for a host of spurious products.

Last week, a woman claiming to be from Verizon FIOS showed up at my door and was talking up the service then said, “Oh, what is your account information so I can check on the best deals for you.” By the way, I already have Verizon FIOS.

Utilities aren’t immune from would-be scammers trying to cash in on your good name.

It seems like every couple of weeks, there’s a story about someone posing as a utility employee and trying to get customers to pay bills that may or may not exist.

As a utility, you probably can’t stop that from happening, but there are steps to take to be proactive and educate your customers to minimize problems. Education is everything

The first step is to get the message out that scams are occurring. Start with a press release that goes to everyone on your media list. That list should include every media outlet that has ever covered you, as well as any other relevant outlets.

Be sure to follow up, especially with news outlets that regularly cover you. It’s a mistake to believe that everyone will see and/or read your email. As an editor, I sometimes receive upward of 200 emails a day. Things simply get lost in the shuffle.

The release itself should be relatively simple. Explain the problem, describing in detail the scenario the scammers are employing. Then contrast it with your actual policies – such as that no utility employee will go door-to-door to collect money.

Say scammers are calling residential customers about delinquent balances or potential disconnections. Point out that your utility doesn’t call customers about those kinds of issues. Then note that anyone who has received a suspicious call should call your customer service department for account information; include the phone number.

Contacting the media is only one way to alert customers.

Remember that your website is a resource; devote some space to scams and what to do if you think you’re being scammed.

Alert customers via your social media channels, linking to your website and/or press releases.

Consider using bill inserts as a way to warn customers.

Have your “hold” telephone messages address the topic.

And if the problem is truly pervasive, think about buying TV, radio or print advertising time or space to inform customers.

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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