Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, numerous Clark County residents have faced financial hardships that sometimes force them to choose which bills to pay and which to skip.
Practically overnight, folks who had stable jobs suddenly found themselves out of work and struggling. Scammers know that and they’re using it to their advantage. Lately, they’ve started mimicking the Clark Public Utilities customer service system to steal from well-meaning people.
“We know that our community is in crisis and our customers are particularly vulnerable right now but we want to be very clear: we are not disconnecting any customers,” Hill said. “Anyone claiming to be from our utility and threatening disconnection during this time of national emergency is a scammer—pure and simple.”
Here’s how the scam works:
The call comes out of the blue, but the caller ID usually reads “Clark Public Utilities” and includes its customer service phone number. But from the start, things are a little off. The voice on the other end of the line is pushy and urgent—you’ve got to pay an outstanding debt immediately, or else your power will be shut off in minutes.
The caller knows your name and claims you’re behind by an amount that’s close to a few months’ worth of power. By design, the whole thing happens so fast. They don’t want you to know you’re being duped.
Scammers exploit fear, embarrassment, and frustration to paralyze a person’s critical thinking. Unfortunately, they’re very sophisticated and can be extremely convincing so many people don’t realize it’s a scam until it’s too late.
“We put an end to service disconnections during the pandemic because we knew efforts to curb the spread of the virus were going to force some people to fall behind on bills, including their utility bills,” said Customer Service Manager Robert Hill.
Protect yourself by listening for the red flags—especially the payment method they request. The scammer might demand a customer’s credit card number on the spot, or they’ll tell you to hang up, to go to a retail store load money onto a prepaid debit card, then call a specific phone number to make the payment. The number appears local and the automated system it leads to is very similar to the Clark Public Utilities system.
In normal times, when customers fall behind on their utility bill, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The utility will send missed payment notices in the mail in addition to monthly bills. Only after sending several notices will the utility contact customers more directly. Sometimes the utility will send a representative or make a call to a customer’s home, but the employee will always be respectful. Disconnection is always a last resort. “Customers need to know they’re our top priority and we’ll never treat them rudely or with hostility—ever,” Hill said.
Customers should always keep their guards up whenever someone claiming to be from the utility contacts them—especially if they’re contacted at odd hours, like evenings or weekends. If someone calls or comes to your home claiming to be a Clark Public Utilities employee, hang up or close the door and call the utility directly to verify the contact was made by an actual employee.
Utility employees are required to wear visible identification and during this pandemic, only necessary work is being conducted so it would be rare for a utility employee to approach a customer’s home or business. If you have any doubts about the person at your door, don’t hesitate to ask them for their ID and then close the door and verify it with a quick call to customer service.
“A Clark Public Utilities employee will never argue or hesitate to share identification because a customer wants to be cautious,” Hill said. “In fact, we appreciate when customers take that extra step. We also hope customers spread the word about these scams to friends, family, and neighbors so nobody falls victim.”
“Also, if customers are falling behind on their payments they should reach out to us as soon as possible. We’ve adjusted the qualification standards for many of our assistance programs to allow more customers to qualify during this public health emergency,” he added.
Clark Public Utilities customer service representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 360-992-3000. More information on protecting yourself from scams is available at clarkpublicutilities.com.