Here’s The Newest Utility Bill Scam

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Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder law attorney, AgingParents.com

We live in a county with a high number of older residents. A neighbor recently alerted all in our area to yet another scam she had encountered, targeting the unsuspecting. Here’s how it works:

The scammer makes a threatening phone call to a normal utility customer, posing as a representative of the local utility company. The caller tells the person that their electricity will be cut off shortly for failure to pay a bill. They leave a number to call back. The person calls the number which is answered with the utility company name, and music while on hold. The scammer then gets on the line, demands immediate payment, saying that the truck is on the way to cut off the electrical power to the person’s home. They ask for personal information, intimidating the person into giving it to them and insists that the only way to stop the truck is by express payment now.

People can be easily fooled by this, as it sounds legitimate. Here is how the neighbor described her take on this:

“I feel particularly bad for older folks who can easily be manipulated into providing sensitive information. The perps have not a shred of conscience and will say whatever it takes. Please alert your friends, especially older folks, that the callers are very convincing and they use psychological manipulation to weaken your stance; even so much as to humiliate or chasten you for the fictional accusation.”

Emotional manipulation is how the scammers succeed.  They create fear. They threaten. They take advantage of the person’s discomfort with the idea of having electricity cut off. They create doubt, even when a person knows the bill is paid or even paid by auto debit.

How can you protect your aging parents from becoming victimized? AgingParents.com, where we consult with families who have aging loved ones, we make three recommendations.

  1. First, let your loved ones know about the scam and to be on the alert for it. If your aging parents are clear-minded, that can help. Tell them this story and how scary it was for the person getting the threatening call. But many elders are forgetful, or have signs of early dementia. They can be manipulated easily no matter how much you try to educate them.
  2. If your aging parent has memory loss, offer to take over payment of monthly recurring bills such as the utility bill. Set up accounts online for you to oversee payment of all of these bills. You can track them, ensure that no bills are delinquent, and monitor spending. Removing access to bill payment can help you stop scammers cold. Your parent will know that the bills are your department and can tell the fake utility scammer to call you.
  3. Understand that scammers are everywhere looking for older people to rip off. They are clever, sneaky and have devised ways to make themselves look legit. Even if your aging parent is perfectly competent mentally, he or she can still be bullied by a professional thief. Look over your parent’s shoulder with finances to do everything possible to protect them from these evil fraudsters.

If you are having difficulty with an aging parent and need expert advice, get it at AgingParents.com so you can manage with less stress. We offer professional consultations, in addition to free resources such as blogs, YouTube videos, and books/eBooks.

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