CONSUMER FIRST ALERT: Scammers threaten to cut off your power

Published: Oct. 24, 2021 at 3:32 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - You might be turning up the heat on this chillier fall mornings. We have a warning about a scam threatening to turn off your power.

This is the time of year we hear about more utility scams, where a caller says there’s an issue with your utility service or account and you need to pay right away.

Utilities like Wisconsin Public Service joined with police and sheriff’s departments across our area for a big social media push this week, sharing the warning signs of utility scams.

The scammers may pretend to be from WPS, We Energies or another utility. They can even manipulate Caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from WPS, or leave a message that sounds like it’s from the company.

They threaten to turn off your power right away, and they demand immediate payment -- often by prepaid debit card, gift card, cryptocurrency or third-party apps.

A utility will never do that.

If you think a scammer is targeting you, hang up.

During this Cybersecurity Month, we’re learning about a trend hackers are using your password patterns.

We talked with Lara Sutherlin, administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection, about how your favorite phrase can be used against you.

“We’re actually hearing stories now about scammers being able to break into more vulnerable businesses and then garnering these passwords and looking for patterns, and then using that to get into more secure businesses,” Sutherlin said. “So, if you’re using a patterned password where you use the same name in a word to go to buy a hamburger online, and then you use the same thing on your credit card or in your banking, you’re really making yourself vulnerable, because scammers are looking for that low-hanging fruit.”

To protect your password, use a separate password for every account and make it at least 12 characters. Use two-step verification for your most critical accounts.

“There are password protectors. There are apps that generate passwords. It’s really important. We keep all our valuables online now -- not our jewelry but pictures, all of our financials, health care. There’s a lot of information that we would not want people to access, and just like we lock our house up, you need to think about how secure it is,” Sutherlin said.

Cybersecurity experts say user names and passwords aren’t enough to protect your most sensitive online accounts. Set up two-step verification, like getting a unique, one-time code sent by text or email to verify your identity. It’s one more step to thwart hackers.

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