Robocall Scammers Wear New Mask

By Greg Tavarez, TMCnet Editor  |  October 31, 2022

The Federal Communications Commission, mobile operators and third-party software apps are in the midst of a brawl against robocalls to protect Americans from being victims of potential scams. As robocalls continue to run rampant across America, bad actors continue to take on new forms. One that consumers are familiar with is the IRS scam call notifying citizens of unpaid taxes.

To add another headache to American consumers, a threat from utility-related imposter robocalls is now in the fray, prompting YouMail to issue a new robocall threat advisory. The utility scam callers mask themselves pretending to be from major American gas, electric and other utilities to defraud unsuspecting consumers with threats of rapid disconnection if their "utility bills" are not paid immediately.

The scam calls vary in details, but they usually tell the target that their service is about to disconnect and they need to press a key to make a payment or talk to someone at the company. Some calls come from a random phone number and mention a generic company name like "your Electric Company." Others use a local phone number to the area code and sometimes prefix of the person they're calling and mention specific departments to connect to. Others call from a toll-free number, sometimes spoofing a known utility number, and mention a specific utility company name.

Here is an example of one of the scripts:

“Dear customer. This is an automated message from PG&E (News - Alert), Pacific Gas and Electric. This call is to inform you that your electricity service will get disconnected in the next 45 minutes due to a payments issue with last payments. To avoid any disconnection or speak with a live agent, please press one. For billing and disconnection, press two. For finance department, press three. Thank you for choosing us, goodbye.”

The calls reach all regions of the country, comprise almost all major utilities in the U.S. and are estimated to total as many as tens of millions of calls each month. More scam calls are expected to follow as scammers rush to take advantage of the rising number of families falling behind on payments. The damage from these calls is considerable, averaging $650 in losses per successful scam.

Robocall blocking app users are protected, like the ones using YouMail (News - Alert) – or other similar apps. However, those not using an app find that these types of fraud calls are hard to identify when a business they have a relationship with.

To protect themselves and be proactive against these scams, Alex Quilici (News - Alert), CEO of YouMail, said consumers need to let the calls go to voicemail and then call their utility company by using the phone number provided on their bill or utility company’s website. Of course, many consumers have adopted that practice already and simply refuse to answer calls from unrecognized numbers – those that aren’t in their directory.

Edited by Erik Linask