Energy Switch or Shut Off
BBB is warning people that there may be door-to-door solicitors asking to see your recent utility bill and using it to claim they can save you a lot of money. Because of the deregulation rules in Ohio, citizens aren't required to buy their utilities from the city, so third-party vendors are attempting to persuade energy customers to switch providers. The trouble is, some suppliers don’t provide all of the information necessary for consumers to make an informed decision on what the true savings are if they do switch. This is also a prime opportunity for scammers to collect personal information.
A secondary scam that may circulate the area is the utility shut off con. Customers may receive a phone call from someone claiming that their service is due to be shut off because they failed to pay. While the person on the line might sound legitimate, they're actually a scammer looking for a quick way to make some money.
These scam artists will often ask for several months' worth of allegedly unpaid utility bills and may use spoofing software to falsely display your utility company's name and phone number on your caller ID. Customers should know that most utilities will mail at least one, if not several, past-due notices before terminating service.
If you receive a cancellation notification, especially by phone, always verify it using the customer service number on your utility bills - don't give the caller any information.
If someone knocks on your door and asks for your most recent utility bill and they are unable to prove they are with a legitimate third-party provider, check out the company the person claims they represent on bbb.org. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is another resource for an apples-to-apples comparison of gas and electric rates before making the decision to switch. Report calls like this to your utility service provider and scamtracker.org.
Data Privacy Day
If you keep out of the 'cloud,' don't own a Smart TV, or may not be connected to the Internet, you might think your personal information is protected, but you may be more at risk than you think.
Sunday, January 28 is Data Privacy Day. It was created to promote a safer, more secure Internet and covers all personal data online, both social and financial. Scam tactics like credit card skimmers, database hacking, and data breaches are trending in the cybercriminal world, meaning they have become common news stories on major outlets as these tactics are used. Each time a person makes a purchase and uses a credit or debit card - whether or not they are buying online or in-store - the information is stored on a network, in a database and is therefore vulnerable to an attack.
Despite everyone's best efforts to keep data safe - on the business side and on the personal side - scammers will use any vulnerability to get the information they're looking for. Sometimes they send a phishing emails or convince employees to give them the data they want, but sometimes the breach is simply caused by human error; if an employee loses a laptop with important information on it, hackers can use it to connect to a company's database.
The best practice is to treat both personal and financial information carefully. Once it's compromised, there is no guarantee that you can get it back intact; it usually costs more time, money, and resources on top of what was already lost. Keep a close eye on both financial and social media accounts for unusual activity. It's also a good idea to search different variations of your name to see if your information appears on ancestry or family tree websites. Your address, age, or date of birth may all be available to anyone searching the site.
BBB has more information about developing a plan, protecting your information, and improving your cyber status available at bbb.org/cybersecurity.
Connecting with Contractors at Home Improvement Shows
There are a few home improvement shows coming up over the next couple of weeks, a sign that spring projects could be starting soon. Before both businesses and homeowners start strolling up and down the exhibit's aisles and looking into the latest remodeling trends, there are a few questions that need to be asked before they start on any projects. Namely, are you licensed, bonded, and insured?
Contractors are required to carry both liability and workers’ compensation insurance for any employees that work on the job. If they are chosen for a project, the contractor should be able to provide documentation to the homeowner or business proving they’re properly insured. They should also be able to produce a list of referrals—past customers who can speak to their qualifications and professionalism in their previous work.
If your project requires specialized certifications or permits - such as electrical or plumbing work - the contractor must have the proper credentials and licenses in order to work on the job. Don’t be afraid to contact your local planning office for more information about required certifications as well. Some local licensing boards keep lists of area contractors with current credentials. Or, look through the national certification directories, such as the National Electrical Contractors Association membership database.
Before making a final decision on your renovation plans, research the contractors you meet at home improvement shows on bbb.org.
Quick Mention: Home Remodeling Show
If you're looking for remodeling ideas, stop by the Sharonville Convention Center January 26-28 for the Greater Cincinnati Remodeling Expo. Look for Booth 714 and be sure to stop and in to say hi to a staff member from your local BBB!