Utility Scams: Need for Caution Grows
Customers of electric and other utilities increasingly are being targeted by scammers and others claiming utility ties, but who have triggered strong suspicion among customers.
"These operations are getting more creative in how they target and try to manipulate utility customers," Texas-New Mexico Power President Neal Walker said. "It's imperative that customers take steps to protect themselves."
This week is Utility Scam Awareness Week, as declared by Utilities United, a consortium of utilities and trade organizations seeking to raise awareness of these risks. Utilities United offers descriptions of scams and tips for consumers.
TNMP customers' experiences
We have received a noticeable increase of such reports over the last two years – and even just this week.
"The nature of Texas' deregulated market, with poles-and-wires companies being separate from billing companies, makes things more complicated for scammers," Walker said. "But that doesn't keep them from trying."
Reports from customers to TNMP mostly have been demonstrated in these scenarios:
- Telephone calls claiming to be from TNMP, stating that a bill must be paid almost immediately to avoid power being disconnected.
- Payment often is demanded via gift cards instead of via common payment channels.
- Any customer can receive these calls, but common targets include small restaurants who receive these calls just before lunch hours on Fridays.
- (This is one of the most common utility scams across the country.)
- Telephone calls claiming to be from TNMP, citing discounts if customers have had no missed payments.
- This particular version first was reported to TNMP on Monday, Nov. 18.
- Unexpected door-to-door visitors claiming to be from TNMP, with clothing and vehicles that appear utility-ish and, in one case, wearing a TNMP baseball cap.
- These "visitors" typically want access inside homes; they should be turned away and law enforcement should be contacted immediately and provided with descriptions.
- TNMP employees carry company-issued IDs and sometimes need access to customers' outside property to access our meters or facilities, but we never need to go inside customers' homes.
- Unexpected door-to-door visitors who claim to be conducting retail sales on behalf of Texas retail electric providers (billing companies).
- Sometimes they suggest connections to TNMP (untrue), or they otherwise conduct themselves in ways that trigger customers to contact TNMP with concerns.
- Customers are advised to be cautious and to consult Public Utility Commission of Texas consumer-protection information.
Scam phone calls sometimes can include caller ID info that displays TNMP's name and toll-free phone number. That's called spoofing, a tactic common to scammers.
The spoofing scammers typically demand that customers call a different number to make payment; that number may feature pre-recorded messaging that claims it is TNMP – but it's not. This scenario is common for many other utilities across the country.
Customers instead should call their current billing companies – using phone numbers found on their most recent bills – to confirm account status.
TNMP is a poles-and-wires-and-meters company that serves customers in parts of North, Central and West Texas and in Gulf Coast communities south of Houston. We move power and we deliver power to customers on behalf of retail providers selected by customers.
- We don't send retail electric bills to customers.
- We don't offer pricing or payment options to customers.
- We don't collect payments from retail customers for those bills.
- We have no current affiliation with any retail provider billing companies.
- We have no opinion on what retail provider billing companies customers select.
- We disconnect and reconnect power to customers when provided with authoritative instructions to do so from billing companies selected by customers.
Customers interested in new billing plans or companies should visit the state-operated powertochoose.com site for more information.
Energy efficiency participating contractors
Contractors that perform energy efficiency and other work on customer premises sometimes conduct door-to-door sales efforts.
These contractors aren't TNMP representatives or employees, but they may be participants in TNMP's energy efficiency program and their marketing collateral may reference our company's program.
Texas-New Mexico Power is a transmission and distribution service provider that delivers power to about 255,000 homes and businesses on behalf of retail electric providers in Texas. More information is available at tnmp.com/about.
Eric Paul: 409-949-5685