Vigilant couple avoids falling for utility hustle - Albuquerque Journal

Vigilant couple avoids falling for utility hustle

“We were nervous, we were scared, we were panicked,” says Judy Lawrence, an Albuquerque financial counselor, consultant and author.

Lawrence and her husband, Steve, know about scams – they hear about them, read about them and Lawrence includes discussion of them in webinars she conducts.

But that didn’t stop the couple from becoming alarmed when they were confronted with one of the ubiquitous PNM scams, in which a fake employee warns the power is about to be shut off unless an “overdue” payment is made immediately.

“What fascinated me about this whole event was our reactions,” Lawrence says. “We are very educated, smart seniors, yet we found ourselves in full-on emotional reaction to the urgency, fear and doubts in those moments.”

It can happen to anyone because it’s what so many scammers excel at: freaking people out with dire threats so their victims won’t have time to think things through.

Steve got the warning call while driving home on a recent frigid day. The caller said trucks were en route to his house, and he needed to provide his credit card number immediately to avoid freezing in the dark.

Steve called his wife, who found the email from PNM confirming payment. She also confirmed the money had been withdrawn from their bank account.

Still, they felt themselves unsettled – especially after the caller said it might all be an accounting problem but regardless, they were overdue by $380.

It wasn’t until they called PNM they felt assured it was just a scam.

The couple wanted to tell their story as a warning that even if you think you’re well-informed, you may still be vulnerable.

Steve said the caller was “authoritative, he was aggressive. What do older people living alone do? You can just see how they would go into a panic.”

Know that the bad actors are very good at intimidation, and resist the urge to act immediately. Check with the utility or company directly, using a phone number you have obtained independently. Don’t click on a link in an unsolicited text or email.

In the case of PNM, the utility sends notices to customers who have past-due balances. It also offers assistance programs and “encourages customers to verify their balance on their own,” according to PNM’s website. Customers are allowed to pay with whatever option they feel most comfortable using.

• • •

Some people signing up for a streaming service, such as Netflix, Hulu or Disney+, have reported scammers trying to gain personal data when the account is activated.

Knowing that you must log in on your web browser to launch service, these websites have popped up, and they look like those belonging to legitimate streaming providers.

Advice from the Better Business Bureau:

• Make sure to visit an official website. Take a close look at the URL to see that it is spelled correctly and with no altered characters or letters. Remember that just because a website is at the top of a search list does not mean it’s legitimate. Never enter a username and password if you’re not sure about the legitimacy. Don’t enter personal information on third-party websites.

• Be careful about ads and sponsored links.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-888-255-9210 or file a complaint at www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.

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