Have you been a victim of a scam involving someone pretending to be from AEP Texas? Unfortunately, scams involving Texas utilities such as AEP Texas are a recurring problem. But staying safe from fraud is simple if you keep a few facts in mind. Here we explain some of the common types of scams that con artists and scammers use to fool AEP Texas customers, so that you can stay safe.
Backgrounder: A Recent AEP Scam
A recent phone scam involving AEP Texas customers was reported in September, 2015. AEP Texas customers have reported receiving telephone calls from people claiming to be representing AEP Texas to warn them of imminent power disconnection unless they pay a missed bill. Customers were instructed to purchase pre-paid debit cards, and provide the account number in order to avoid service shutoff. The scammer then redeemed the card before the customer realizes what has happened.
What's more, this scam isn't only targeting AEP Texas customers; other transmission & distribution utilities in Texas have reported similar problems.
While phone scams threatening impending disconnection are a fairly old type of scam, con artists are becoming more sophisticated, and are often using 1-800 numbers to trick customers with caller ID. AEP Texas has also reported that in some cases, consumers are left a phone message telling them that their service is about to be disconnected and given a toll-free number to call. When customers call the number, they are told that they caller have reached the disconnection phone number for either AEP Texas or their retail electric provider.
How to Avoid Electric Bill Scams
While con artists and scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, spotting a scam can be fairly easy if you stay alert and remember a few things about your electricity service.
AEP Texas is not responsible for calling you about payment
In Texas, your retail electric provider (REP) is responsible for all customer service aspects of your electric service, including being responsible for billing and collecting payment. AEP Texas delivers your electricity, and responds to outages. It is therefore very unlikely that you will receive direct communication (whether a phone, email, or visit) from AEP Texas, and they will only disconnect your service upon instruction from your supplier (REP). If you miss a payment for your electricity, it is your REP who will call you, not AEP Texas.
AEP Texas will never call you asking for payment. Your REP sends out your bill, and collects electric delivery fees on AEP Texas's behalf. AEP Texas will not ask for, nor do they need, your personal banking information or credit card information.
All billing issues should be addressed by your REP
As previously mentioned, your REP is your first point of contact for all customer service concerns, including payment. If you miss a payment, your REP will issue a warning notice of upcoming disconnection.
General Tips for Avoiding Phone Scams
Get in the habit of following these tips when dealing with anyone who contacts you (whether in person or over the phone) claiming to be representing AEP Texas or your retail electric provider.
- Never provide your Social Security Number, credit card number, and/or bank account information to anyone requesting it unless it was you initiated the contact and you are sure of the identity of the person you are speaking with.
- Know your REP's phone number: Your retail electric provider's customer service number will be noted on your bill. Be wary of any calls claiming to be from your supplier that do not come from their official customer service number. Use your caller ID to verify that the number that has called called you is registered to a legitimate company
- Take your time: don't let anyone calling you on the phone demanding payment pressure you into acting quickly. Ask questions to verify whether the caller is who he/she says. Anyone calling from your chosen REP should have access to and be able to recite basic information about your account. For example, if someone calls you claiming to be from your REP, ask them to tell you the last four or five digits of your account number (make sure you have it on hand with you).
- Be aware of the time of the call: if you receive a legitimate warning about nonpayment and the possibility of an upcoming service shutoff, it should be made during regular business hours. Be cautious if you receive a call late at night or on the weekend, and make sure to confirm the identity of the caller before discussing any personal information
- If ever you are unsure about the authenticity of a call, hang up and call the customer service number of your retail electric provider (the number on your bill) to confirm that it was an official call.
Remember, AEP Texas is not responsible for collecting money for a missed payment. They will not ask you for payment, and certainly never would ask for payment by pre-paid debit card. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from AEP Texas who is asking you for money, you should hang up and report the number to your local police.
Also, the Texas Public Utilities Commission has specific rules about disconnection procedures that Texas retail electric providers and utilities must follow. Find out more about disconnection for nonpayment below.
Avoiding Door-to-Door Scams
Door to door scams involving electric utilities and retail supply companies have been reported all accross the United States, and Texas is no exception. Here are a few safety tips to help you spot and avoid falling for them:
When they might call
Utility and legitimate retail energy salespeople should approach you during regular business hours, and not after dark or late at night. Be wary of any house calls from people claiming to be representing your utility that occur after dark. In many parts of Texas, this practice is illegal.
Why they might call
Remember, Texas utilities like AEP Texas are not responsible for collecting payments or missed bills - that is your retail electric provider's job. Retail electric providers are allowed to sell electricity door-to-door throughout many parts of Texas, but they must clearly state their purpose. Legitimate retail energy salespeople should also leave immediately if you tell them to do so.
Look for official ID
Any representative from your utility or from a legitimate retail electric provider should be dressed in uniform and have a clearly marked car parked in front of your house or apartment complex. They should be able to provide company identification (such as an ID card) upon request. This ID should state the name of their company and an employee identification number, along with providing a phone number (often on the back of the badge) you can dial to verify the person is legitimate.
Never show your bill or give personal information at the door
Do not show your electricity bill to anyone asking to see it unless you are sure of the identity of the person calling you and their purpose of the visit. AEP Texas does not sell electricity, and would not need to see your bill in order to perform their services for you.
Be wary of house calls for meter inspections or equipment maintenance
Do not let anyone into your home before confirming their identity first. AEP Texas should not surprise you with a service visit or meter inspection - they will come to your door only if an appointment has been made or in response to a report of a utility problem.
What to do if you think you've been scammed
Call your local police if you think you've been the victim of a scam involving someone impersonating an AEP Texas employee. You may also want to customer service at 1-877-373-4858 to notify them as well.
If you think you've have your electric supplier switched without your consent (a practice known as "slamming") call the new supplier first to discuss the situation and to request a copy of your supposed authorization. If they cannot provide proof of your consent, or if you cannot resolve the issue, call the Texas Public Utilities Commission at 1-888-782-8477.
Backgrounder: Electric Service Disconnection Rules
A common scam is where scammers contact Texas customers telling them that their power bills haven't been paid, and that they need to pay immediately in order to avoid shutoff. However, all Texas retail electric providers must follow certain rules for disconnection that have been set out by the Texas Public Utilities Commission. Utilities such as AEP Texas, as mentioned previously, are not responsible for collecting missed payment from electricity customers.
Remember, your utility (such as AEP Texas) is responsible for electricity delivery only. They will shut off your service only at the request of your retail electric provider. All questions and concerns regarding billing and payment should be directed to your REP.
Disconnection for Failure to Pay
The Texas Public Utilities Commission allows the REP request that a customer's electric service be disconnected if the customer has failed to pay by the due date. Other possible reasons for disconnection include:
- The customer has not paid a bill owed to the REP or has not made a deferred payment arrangement by the date of disconnection
- The customer hasn't followed the terms of a special payment arrangement they made with the REP
- The customer has failed to pay a security deposit required by the REP
- If the customer has a guarantor and that guarantor has failed to pay the amount guaranteed when the REP has a written agreement, signed by the guarantor, which allows for disconnection of the guarantor's serviced
- If the customer has been detected using their electric service in a way that interferes with others' service (or if they have been using nonstandard equipment)
However, your REP must wait 10 days before requesting AEP Texas to shut off service. Furthermore, your REP is required to provide you with a written Disconnection Notice, which must have been mailed to you or delivered in person no earlier than the first day after your bill's due date.
What's more, disconnection for nonpayment can only take place at certain times of the week: the disconnection date cannot fall on a weekend/holiday (nor the day before a weekend or holiday) unless the REP's billing offices are open
Your REP is not allowed to request service shutoff in several situations, including:
- Non-payment for electric service by a previous occupant of the premise if that occupant is not of the same household
- Non-payment of any charge unrelated to electric service
- If you have already established with your REP that you or another resident on the premises has a critical medical condition and will become seriously ill or more seriously ill if there is a disconnection of service.
Find out MoreYou can learn more about when your service can and can't be disonnected at https://www.puc.texas.gov/consumer/complaint/Rights.aspx. Learn more about your rights as a power consumer in Texas