Beware utility bill phishing scam

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 17, 2014

CHARLOTTE — The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a nationwide email phishing scam that is targeting utility customers. Consumers have reported receiving emails from “PG&E” that claim their “Energy” bill is past due. The email instructs the recipient to click on a link to pay the bill.
“This email is a phishing scam combined with a payment scam. The goal is to get you to click on the link in the email to pay your bill,” said BBB President Tom Bartholomy.
“If you click on the link, you will download a virus on your computer that could lead to identity theft. If you input your credit card to pay this bill, you will have unauthorized charges on your credit card,” added Bartholomy. “If you input your debit card, your bank account could be cleaned out within minutes.”
The red flags that will help you spot a fake utility bill scam include:
• The bill is from a company that you don’t recognize. PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) is a real company, but it does not serve the Southern Piedmont of N.C. and S.C.
• The email is in your SPAM or junk email folder. Your email provider can filter mass emails sent by certain types of senders.
• The bill has misspelled words or formatting errors in it. This bill contains multiple mistakes: the word “Received” is misspelled; an amount doesn’t have a $ sign in front of it; a zero is left off of the total amount; the word “BY” is in all capital letters.
• The reply email address, which you can see by hovering over the “From: PG&E” does not include the company’s name.
• The URL web address for the “click here” link, which you can see by hovering over the link, does not include the company’s domain name.
“This scam is targeting utility customers today. Tomorrow, scammers could target cable customers.” said Bartholomy. “That’s why it is important for you to know how to spot a phishing scam so that you know what to do.”
The BBB has this advice for utility customers:
• Do not click on links or download attachments in emails from businesses or individuals you do not know.
• Be suspicious of emails and calls that claim you have a past due balance and need to make a payment or your gas or electric will be turned off.
• Never give out personal or financial information to anyone who emails or calls you.
• Never wire money or provide debit card or credit card numbers in response to an email or telephone call.
• Call the number on your utility company bill to find out if you are concerned that there is a problem with your account.
For more information about phishing scams, please visit BBB.