Hopefully, we will check on our elderly and vulnerable neighbors throughout this summer heat wave, ensuring they are keeping cool and comfortable. 

Unfortunately, even in the City of Good Neighbors, people are trying to take advantage of others. In fact, there are recent reports of “scammers” roaming the streets of Buffalo, allegedly trying to see your utility bills to gain access to your personal information. 

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This post in the Buffalo Subreddit forum details how a recent interaction with someone who worked for a “utility company” was walking around their South Buffalo neighborhood, demanding to see their home’s utility bills and claiming that it is mandated that you have to show them. 

Are door-to-door utility scams a real thing?

Unfortunately, there have been several instances reported across the country of people dressed as “utility workers” walking through suburban and city neighborhoods, who use illegitimate tactics to gain access to an unsuspecting resident’s personal information.

New York State is one of seventeen states and Washington D.C. that have deregulated utilities - meaning that now, residents and businesses don’t necessarily have to buy their electricity from their local utility company. Instead, several companies would compete to supply electricity to them.

Deregulation of electricity originally had good intentions, as it meant more competition and better prices for consumers. However, it’s also led to the birth of scammers who know this and try to take advantage of it.

How do I know if the person at my door is a scammer?

Unfortunately, making this all the more confusing, some utility salespeople actually do go door-to-door to sell their competitive rates, and some might actually be a good deal. So how do you know if the person wearing a uniform at your door claiming to be from the utility company is legitimate or not?

  • They’ll tell you it’s required. Beware of this if you live in an apartment complex, as this is an extremely common scam to take place there. Oftentimes a scammer will tell you that everyone who lives there routinely selects a new power provider every X months, year, or season. Don’t believe them. It’s never required that individuals switch power providers, and you can switch whenever you want. 
  • They’ll demand to see your utility bills. A scammer will use the rouse of asking to see your latest utility bill to tell you that there’s a problem with your account, that you’re paying an unnecessary fee, or that your rate is too high. More than likely, they will copy your account number from your bill to steal your information or switch you to another provider without your consent. No matter what, never show your utility bill. Ever. 
  • They’ll tell you you can receive a discount, but you have to sign up right now. Chances are that yes, the rate will be so low it seems too good to be true - which if you read the fine print, it usually is. This “teaser rate” may only last a month or two before the rate skyrockets and you’re stuck paying much more than you’re actually paying now. 
  • They won’t tell you which company they’re from. Just because they say they work for “your local power company” doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth.  Also, uniforms and lanyards can easily be fabricated. Ask to see an official ID on a badge with a photo. If they legitimately work for your power company, they’ll have it. 
  • They’ll try to pressure you. Similar to what the Redditor posted above, they’ll tell you that they’re only in town for X many days or that they’re in a hurry because this is only a limited-time offer. Always read the fine print before signing anything. 
  • They’ll threaten to shut off your power if you don’t pay them immediately. Call your utility company first. 
  • They’ll ask to come inside. Someone in a fake utility uniform could ask to come inside and see your fusebox or meter, while simultaneously looking for things to steal. Never let someone you don’t know inside your home. 

Don’t open the door for someone wearing a utility uniform

Your safest bet to prevent being a victim this summer of a utility scam? Just don’t open the door. If your utility company really needs to get a hold of you, they will call you or send you a notice in the mail. Give them a call to see if they reached out instead of answering the door.

Also, if you’re interested in switching power companies to potentially get a better rate and save some money, do your own research first - don’t just randomly sign up with someone who just knocked on your door.

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