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Slam the Scams! Tips to Help Small Businesses Avoid Getting Scammed
Scammers are always on the hunt for their next victim. Whether it is on our phones, online or at our front door, scammers are relentless, and consumers need to take steps to protect themselves. In addition to homeowners, small business owners are also a target for scammers and recently more small business owners are falling prey to these fraudulent acts.
“We get about 15 to 20 calls a day from small business owners who say that they have been scammed. The scammers will call owners threatening to cut power to their business and many fall for the scammers’ demands because they are afraid to lose power as they cannot operate in the dark,” says Jessica Holland, a customer service representative with ComEd for five years.
When being scammed, a customer typically receives an unsolicited phone call from an individual who falsely claims to be a utility representative. The scammer warns that the customer’s service will be shut off if the customer fails to make a payment – usually within a short timeframe through a prepaid debit card.
Scammers are tricky. They have even duplicated the upfront Interactive Voice Response system of some utilities, including ComEd, so when customers call the number provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate business. Some of these scammers also use caller ID “spoofing” to replicate a utility’s phone number.
By the time the customer realizes they’ve been scammed, it’s too late, says Ericka Brown, a customer service representative with ComEd for three years.
“There is nothing anybody can do to get the customer’s money back because the funds from these debit cards are untraceable. It’s sad to receive these calls,” Ericka says.
Customers should note the following red flags of a scam:
- Utility representatives will never ask or require a customer with a past due balance to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.
- Customers can make payments online, by phone, automatic bank withdrawal, mail or in person.
- Customers with a past due balance will receive multiple shut off notifications – never a single notification one hour or less before disconnection.
Jessica and Erika recommend that customers be proactive by downloading the ComEd app so that they can monitor their bill and make payments online.
Customers can avoid being scammed by taking a few precautions:
- Never provide social security numbers or personal information to anyone initiating contact with you claiming to be a utility representative or requesting you to send money to another person or entity other than your local utility providers.
- Always ask to see a company photo ID before allowing any utility worker into your home or business.
- When in doubt, check it out. Be skeptical of individuals wearing clothing with old or defaced company logos. If you have any doubts, ask to see a company photo ID.
- Never make payment for services to anyone coming to the door or over the phone when they demand you use an unusual payment method.
ComEd has joined forces with other Illinois utilities –Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, and North Shore Gas – for the second year in a row to help provide essential information that can help utility customers avoid being scammed. They designated Nov. 15 as “Utilities United Against Scams Day,” and will support by a week-long campaign with content, online and on social media channels, focused on exposing the tricks scammers use to steal money from customers, and how customers can protect themselves.
Anyone who believes he or she has been a target of a phone scam is urged to contact the Illinois Attorney General’s office toll free at 1-800-386-5438 (TTY 1-800-964-3013) or visit the Illinois Attorney General’s web site at http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/ and click on the link “Protecting Consumers.”
If customers have concerns about the status of their account, they can also contact ComEd at ComEd 1-800-EDISON1