Last October, my family members received a phone call from a company dubbed Utility Savings Expert, whose website (utilitysavingsexpert.net) features the tagline We are here to help you, but omits the second half of the sentence: separate you from your money.
The pitch was enticing: Utility Savings Expert claimed they could help customers save up to 50% on various bills, including cell phone, cable, electric, and more. All you had to do was share your account information in order for them to pay the bill on your behalf. Once you checked to make sure the bill was covered, you simply wired the company half the full amount due. Voila! Instant savings.
The offer was so tempting that my family members, who are retired and live on a fixed income, decided to try it with their Sprint phone bill. They gave the scammers their Sprint account information, and a few days later, sure enough, their $250 bill had been paid in full. Satisfied, they agreed to send half the amount to the Utility Savings Expert company. The catch? They could only send payment via wire transfer, not check or credit card.
Legitimate companies won’t require you to pay only by wire transfer or reloadable debit card.
That should have been a glaring red flag, says Brandy Bauer of the National Council on Aging. “Legitimate companies won’t require you to pay only by wire transfer or reloadable debit card,” she says.
It wasn’t until about a month and a half after they wired the money that they noticed something wrong. Sprint was charging them an additional $250 because a payment made on their account weeks ago had been reversed.
Here’s what most likely happened: the scammers called the issuer of the credit card they used to make the payment and alleged that it was a fraudulent charge—so the bank reversed the charge. Of course, the victims were out both the money they wired and still had to pay their Sprint bill.