City of Austin warns customers of utility scams

Consumer

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The City of Austin Utilities Department is warning customers about scammers posing as City or Austin Energy employees.

Austin Utilities says it has received over 30 calls since Saturday where customers reported someone posing as a utility or energy employee and threatening to cut off their utilities unless they make an immediate payment.

“The City of Austin Utilities Customer Contact Center does not call residential customers with cut-off deadlines,” the City says. “We will never ask for credit card or wire transfer information over the phone. While some customers do pay in cash, the City will never demand immediate payment in person with cash, gift card or Bitcoin.”

Luis Rivas, a public information specialist at Austin Energy, said these scams have occurred in Austin for at least the last five years and have evolved along with new technology.

Rivas said this allows scammers to potentially call from anywhere in the world and use methods such as displaying their caller ID as Austin Energy’s customer service line and calling during periods where utility bills are higher such as during the summer.

“[Scammers] are opportunistic,” Rivas said. “They know when the best time to call and customers are vulnerable. We have no idea what the source is.”

Rivas said there is little the city can do to fight against these scams beyond spreading the word through social media and press releases. He said the city will usually forward these scam reports to the Austin Police Department for them to handle.

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