People tend to think of African princes, inherited millions and dodgy calls from ‘Telstra’ when scams are mentioned, but it’s important to know that scams exist in many different forms, one of them being fake electricity bills.
Fake energy bills seem to be the scamming flavour of the month lately, with energy companies in the Northern Territory the latest to warn customers of recent telephone and door-to-door scams within the state. Scams have also been carried out via email, SMS and post.
While you may feel reasonably confident in your ability to spot and reject a scam, it’s generally a little harder to think calmly and critically when you’re on the phone with someone who is demanding your money and threatening to cut off your electricity. Even the best of us can fall victim to a scam, so we wanted to give you some tips for spotting a dodgy bill and avoiding falling victim to scammers. While this article is about energy bills in particular, much of the following advice is solid for avoiding other types of scams as well.
Keep on top of your bills
The one thing scammers are looking to capitalise on is uncertainty. They’re like sharks, and uncertainty is like blood in the water to them. If they smell it, they’ll try their absolute hardest to pressure you into breaking. How do you eliminate any uncertainty you may have in regard to your energy bills? Stay on top of them, of course!
Pay any bills you receive as soon as you can, and if you can’t do that at least know what the balance of the bill in question is. This will completely safeguard you against scammers asking for amounts they’ve pulled out of thin air, because you’ll know better.
Don’t give them anything
In the early stages of a scam, whether it’s by text, email, or phone call, it can be hard to tell if the person on the other end of the line is legitimate or not. Until you’re 100% sure of the validity of their identity (or the lack thereof), don’t give them a shred of personal information. Whether it’s names, addresses, phone numbers, your account number with your energy provider, keep it all under lock.
While you may not end up falling victim to the scam, in some situations giving away certain pieces of personal information can be just as damaging.
Contact your provider
Say you received a dodgy-sounding text, email, or phone call that was supposedly from your energy company – you know what the best way of checking its validity is? Give your provider a call! They’ll be able to clear up any confusion about the communications and confirm whether it’s from them or not. It seems obvious, but a lot of people tend to overlook this one simple point when they’re not sure about whether they’ve received a fake bill. It’s also important to report these matters to your provider, so they can make other customers aware.
Common sense never hurt
Keep in mind that no scam is ever perfect. There’s always going to be some aspect to the scam that makes it seem questionable, if only slightly. Maybe you’re being asked to pay an energy bill that you know for sure has already been paid. Maybe the communication isn’t even from the energy company that you use.
People tend to panic in the face of a scam and that leads to common sense flying out the window, but if you can keep a level head and think about the situation critically and calmly you should have no problem spotting a scam and holding onto your hard-earned dollars.
Common myths about scams you should be aware of
- Being on the do-not-call list will protect you from scams – Scammers are criminals. They’re under no obligation to abide by the do-not-call list, and will call any numbers they can get a hold of.
- Scams are always about money – As mentioned before, personal details can be just as valuable as money to some buyers, and scammers are well aware of that. Be careful not to give away any personal details.
- It can’t be a scam if they’re Australian – People tend to be more trusting of fellow Australians, but keep in mind that a) Australians are just as capable of being criminals and b) non-Australians are perfectly capable of setting up Australian email addresses, phone numbers, websites etc. The key message is to treat everyone with equal suspicion.
- A legitimate-looking website means a legitimate business – Scammers can set up incredibly well-designed and elaborate websites in order to increase the chances of you thinking they’re running a real and legitimate business. However, don’t take anything for granted – a good website doesn’t mean you’re dealing with a real business. Running a quick Google search on the company in question will generally reveal a relatively non-existent web presence except for their ‘site’ which should be an immediate red flag.
Hopefully this advice will help you to spot an energy bill scam if one comes your way.