Beware of scams

The holiday season is upon us and while it’s a time of family and celebration, it can also be a time when consumers should be wary of scams.

UIL Holdings, the company that owns United Illuminating, is urging customers to be on the alert for frauds, scams and other types of criminal activity during the holiday season.

UIL and its companies — The United Illuminating Company, Southern Connecticut Gas Company, Connecticut Natural Gas Corporation and Berkshire Gas Company — periodically receive reports of scammers posing as utility representatives in order to gain access to customers’ homes, bank accounts or personal information.

In a recent example of this kind of ploy, a scammer calls the customer and threatens to shut off utility service unless a false bill “payment” is immediately made. To facilitate this, the caller instructs the customer to buy a prepaid debit card, such as Green Dot's “MoneyPak” card, and then call back with the card number to complete the “payment” — which is never applied to the customer's utility bill.

“Unfortunately, there are those who would exploit our companies' brands and our relationship with our customers in order to generate an illicit income,” said Michael A. West Jr., UIL's director of Corporate Communications. “Consumers may be particularly vulnerable during the holiday season, when financial concerns are often in the forefront. So we encourage customers to be extra careful before letting strangers into their home, or providing personal or financial information that could be used to steal from them.”

West added that customers who are legitimately having difficulty paying their utility bills during the holidays should call their utility at the numbers provided below to work out a payment plan, and to learn about various ways they can avoid losing service, including winter shut-off protection, matching payment and forgiveness programs.

UIL offers the following tips for avoiding scams.

• Never disclose personal or financial information, such as your Social Security or bank account number, until you are sure the person you are talking to is a legitimate company representative. There are limited circumstances under which a representative of a UIL company might place an unsolicited telephone call to a customer - for example, to address billing issues, or to notify customers of utility work that might affect them. If you have any doubt about a call, ask the caller to provide a name and a number to call back before you provide any personal or account information. Then, call your utility at one of the numbers below and ask them to verify that the call is legitimate.

• Be wary of anyone who shows up unsolicited at your door, claiming to be a utility employee. UIL companies' employees typically do not visit customers' homes without an appointment or advance notification. They typically wear company uniforms and drive company vehicles, and they always carry company-issued photo identification. Ask to see it before letting a visitor in. If you still have doubts, keep your door locked and call your utility at the numbers below.

• Dial 911 if you ever feel threatened or concerned for your physical safety.