September 10, 2014

Udall Warns Utility Consumers about Scam During Service Outages

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which oversees and funds the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), warned New Mexicans about scams directed at utility customers.

The FTC recently issued a consumer alert about scammers who claim to work for a utility company and seek cash payment for reconnecting service during power outages caused by severe weather or other events.

The scammer may dress in a uniform, display a fake identification card, and claim that the power is out at the utility company to explain the need for payment in cash. The con artist then steals the money and leaves the consumer without service until it is restored by the utility company.

"With recent severe weather events across the Southwest, I encourage consumers to be aware of the types of tactics scammers use to defraud unsuspecting victims," Udall said. "Con artists use fear, threats, and disguises to trick people and prey on them when they're vulnerable. I will continue to push for aggressive crack downs on this type of fraud to protect New Mexico consumers."

Last year, Udall urged the FTC to take aggressive action against a similar utility scam impacting customers of PNM Resources (PNM). Con artists employed a practice known as caller ID "spoofing" to make their phone call appear to originate from the utility company and then threatened to turn off a customer's services if they did not make an immediate payment. Udall, who previously served New Mexico State Attorney General and a federal prosecutor, has long worked to crack down on scams and consumer fraud.

In this most recent scam, PNM warned customers about reports of similar scams related to its Home Energy Checkup Program. Criminals apparently have tried several different approaches, including posing as a PNM employee and showing up unannounced on customers' doorsteps.

To avoid being cheated by this scam or others similar to it, Udall reminds utility consumers not to pay cash to anyone who comes to their home or business offering services without prior notice from the company.

Further information about utility scams is available here. If you have been contacted by someone claiming to be able to turn on your utilities for a cash payment, you may file a complaint with the FTC and the New Mexico Attorney General's office.