This article was published in December 2019 and may be outdated.
Manitoba Hydro saw a five per cent jump in the number of fraud-related complaints it received in 2019 from the year before, a sign more customers are getting bogus e-mails and texts attempting to scam them out of their money.
As of mid-December, 904 text and e-mail scam complaints have been filed with the utility, up from 862 complaints last year. In 2018, the utility saw nearly a 300 per cent increase in the number of fraud complaints, up from 2017 when only 221 complaints were made.
Most scams reported to Manitoba Hydro in 2019 were text and e-mail scams at 87 per cent. Phone and at-the-door sales made up the rest.
Chris McColm, Manitoba Hydro’s Security and Investigations Supervisor, said the vast majority of customers who report text and e-mail scams to the utility know it’s an attempted fraud and should be deleted.
“But heightened awareness is a two-edged sword,” McColm said. “Scammers are finding new ways to trick you out of your money.”
McColm said increasingly phone scammers pose as utility providers and insist customers — usually small businesses during busy hours — are delinquent on their bills and risk disconnection if they don’t pay immediately. They typically ask for payment in the form of a prepaid debit card. These scammers also rig caller ID to make it look like the call is from Manitoba Hydro, and have even mimicked our automated phone system so the recordings and prompts are similar to Manitoba Hydro’s.
Manitoba Hydro does make reminder phone calls to customers who are in arrears, and we request payment to prevent disconnection of service. However, we do not make last-minute threats, we do not request specific payment types like prepaid debit cards, and we do not accept payments over the phone or ask customers to wire money.
McColm said small business owners should remind their employees to hang up if they get an unsolicited call threatening disconnection.
“With scammers becoming increasingly more sophisticated, it makes it harder for the utility’s customers to tell the difference between scams and legitimate messages,” he said. “If you get any communication, either by e-mail, text or phone claiming to be Manitoba Hydro and demanding immediate payment through an unfamiliar method, do not respond. Hang up or delete the message.”
Scammers will also reach out in times of crisis, such as the widespread power outages in Manitoba last October, and offer to restore power more quickly or before others in your neighbourhood for an immediate payment. During power outages, homes and businesses are always reconnected free of charge.
Scammers also are especially active during holidays such as Christmas, when they expect people to be traveling, cooking or entertaining and not paying attention.
Manitoba Hydro is a member of Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), an association of 140 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas companies and their respective trade associations that raises awareness of scams targeting utility customers. UUAS has helped shut down nearly 5,000 toll-free phone numbers used by utility-impostor scammers.
The UUAS said with scams becoming increasingly sophisticated, people of all ages are affected. In fact, millennials are 25 per cent more likely to report losing money to fraud than those 40 or older.
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Riley McDonald — Media Relations Assistant