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Utilities scammers target Austin residents

Fourteen customers paid more than $7,000 total to scammers claiming bills were past due.

AUSTIN, Texas — Utility scammers are targeting Austin residents, saying their bills are past due and their utilities will be shut off if they do not immediately pay up.

According to a press release from City of Austin Utilities, 192 customers reported scam calls from people claiming to represent City of Austin Utilities. The scammers masked their caller ID as "COA" or 512-494-9400. 

Once on the phone, the scammers will claim payment systems are not working and that the customers are months behind on bills. If customers don't make an immediate payment, the scammers claim utilities will be shut off instantly.

"In one case this morning, the scammer told a customer that if she didn’t make immediate payment, her electric meter would explode," said Austin Utilities.

Scammers will then pressure people to buy pre-paid credit cards to make instant payment over the phone, or send customers QR codes and make payment at specific stores. 

"In one case, the scammer stayed on the line with the customer and sent her several QR codes until one worked," said Austin Utilities. "Unfortunately, they convinced the customer to make a $500 payment."

According to City of Austin Utilities, here’s what customers need to know to avoid utility scammers:

  • City of Austin Utilities does not call residential customers with cut-off deadlines. 
  • City of Austin Utilities will never ask for credit card or wire transfer information over the phone.
  • While some customers do pay in cash, the City will never demand immediate payment in person with cash, gift card, Bitcoin or by QR code.
  • If a City of Austin customer receives a phone call threatening to interrupt service, demand immediate payment, or request credit card or bank account information, hang up and dial 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 and report the incident immediately.

So far in 2021, more than 1,300 customers reported scam calls. 62 customers were tricked into paying more than $33,000 to scammers. In August alone, 192 customers reported scam calls and 14 customers paid scammers more than $7,000. In the past two weeks alone, there were 100 reported scam calls.

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