It can be a scary situation.
You get a phone call.
The caller says your utility bill is past due and your service will be cut in 30 minutes unless you make a payment — either with a charge card over the phone or with cash or a money order payment when they come to your house or business to shut off your power.
Stop. Don’t give any personal information over the phone. Hang up.
The person who called you is a scammer.
Recently, the Fremont Department of Utilities learned that phone scammers are calling customers, stating that they have a past due bill and threatening to cut service in a half hour unless payment is made over the phone or when they show up to disconnect power.
“The Fremont Department of Utilities does not contact customers by telephone to collect unpaid bills,” said Jan Rise, administrative services director. “We do not collect payments at the customers’ home or business. All unpaid bill notices are mailed to the customer.”
Rise said customers are cautioned not to talk to these phony bill collectors, who do not represent Fremont Utilities.
“Never give personal information or financial information over the telephone to a stranger,” Rise said.
Anytime customers receive an unsolicited or suspicious telephone call, they should hang up and call customer service directly (during regular business hours) at the Fremont utility office at 402-727-2600.
Scammers have become more devious in their attempts to mislead customers.
“These scammers sometimes identify themselves as the Fremont Utility or also may use the OPPD utility name,” Rise said. “Customers have reported that the telephone caller ID for the scammer actually matches a valid OPPD number.”
Jodi Baker, OPPD media specialist, warns area residents to exercise caution.
“Do not trust what may appear on your caller ID,” Baker said. “Hang up and call OPPD directly if you have any questions on your bill.”
The OPPD number within Omaha is 402-536-4131. Outside of Omaha, customers may dial 1-877-536-4131 toll-free.
Baker said in November that OPPD had 35 reports from customers who had received scam phone calls.
Most came from churches, restaurants and other businesses.
Sometimes, scammers target customers via email and request personal banking information.
“We will never ask customers for banking information over the phone or through email,” Rise said. “We offer secure on-line bill payment at our website. Utility employees do not take payments over the telephone.”
Nor do utility employees collect payments at someone’s home or business, Rise said. Personnel do not accept payments when working in neighborhoods.
Baker said not to let someone enter your residence if they come unannounced to your door claiming to be with the utility.
Always ask for identification or verification.
“OPPD employees always carry identification,” Baker said. “Failure to produce identification should always be a tip-off to the customer that something is wrong.”
Rise said Fremont utility workers have city-issued photo identification. Look for marked Fremont utility vehicles if personnel are working in your neighborhood.
If someone comes to your door, ask to see identification.
“Assume they may not work for the Fremont Utility if they cannot provide an ID or the photo doesn’t match the person at the door,” Rise said.
Rise has other advice: Should you feel threatened by a caller or someone trying to gain entry into your home or business, call the Fremont Police Department at 402-727-2677.