Omaha Public Power District is warning customers of possible utility scam phone calls, due to historic flooding.
It’s not a new problem. Scammers have been targeting utility customers across the country for years. However, we do tend to receive an uptick in reports of the problem from our customers during or after highly publicized weather events. This is likely because con-artists want to take advantage of customer vulnerability.
The way these scammers work, is they call customers, pretending to be the utility. They try to convince customers that they owe money due to an allegedly overdue bill or some type of equipment, such as meters. They are aggressive and demand payments via credit, debit or pre-paid credit cards. Callers threaten to disconnect power if customers don’t pay up quickly.
Scammers may even use “spoofing” technology so that caller identification appears to show a legitimate OPPD phone number. We’ve also heard a newer twist. Some thieves are using robocalls to send their message. They have customers call them back at a number they claim is OPPD, but it is not.
OPPD stresses that none of these people demanding payments or financial information works for the utility. The utility never cold-calls customers, demanding immediate payment.
Scam calls on the rise
The troubling trend does not appear to be slowing down.
In 2018, OPPD logged a total of 714 reports from customers who had received phone calls from scammers. Sadly, 28 of those customers paid the scammers. That compares with 480 reports of scam calls in 2017, where 10 customers paid the scammers.
OPPD advises customers:
- Never give personal or financial information to a stranger during an unsolicited phone call.
- If such a person should appear unannounced at one’s door, claiming to work for the utility, do not allow them inside. Always ask for identification or verification. OPPD employees always carry identification. Failure to produce identification should be a tip-off that something is wrong.
- Never turn off security systems for any reason if a stranger asks. Any customer who receives such a request should call law enforcement immediately.
Customers with questions about making a payment, or about their account in general, should always call OPPD directly. Within Omaha, the number is 402-536-4131. Outside of Omaha, customers should call 1-877-536-4131. Customers in our rural areas may talk with their local offices during business hours.