Customer advocates and utility companies are warning Maryland residents about utility-related scams now that the state’s moratorium on shut-offs has ended.
The warnings came after Maryland residents racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt since the moratorium began in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Baltimore Sun reported. That moratorium ended on Nov. 15, and companies can now resume service shut-offs.
“We may see additional upticks in scammers trying to take advantage of financial distress,” said Paula Carmody, head of the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel. The office represents residential utility customers.
“There is a significant increase in the number of people who have fallen behind on their bills, and they are now subject to service shut-offs," she said.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has been “proactively” working with these customers to make payment plans, said Chimaobi Chijioke, the company’s director of customer care, but he anticipates there’s going to be a surge "in scammers trying to also reach out to them.”
Customers of the company have already reported an increase in scam attempts, including 2,057 scam attempts in September, compared with 294 during the same time last year. Most have not been successful, the newspaper reported, but customers have reported losing $170,000 to scams this year.
Most scam attempts happen by phone, but they can also happen through email, text message or in person visits. Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, said scammers also target small businesses.
Customers should be aware of common warning signs, including someone asking for “immediate payment or personal information,” Chijioke said.