Texans who are struggling with a winter storm that has inflicted widespread losses of electricity and natural gas now have something else to worry about: how to avoid a scam.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator managing the flow of electricity to more than 26 million customers, has warned residents of a scam circulating on social media that asks people to text their private account numbers. “Don’t do it! We don’t need any of your info to get your power back on — we are working as fast as we possibly can,” ERCOT said.
On Wednesday, ERCOT said that 2.7 million households in Texas did not have power.
The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that tracks these types of fraud, says that scammers surface in nearly every instance of human suffering, concocting stories of fake solutions that they try to sell to people desperate for money, shelter, health or even love.
In 2020, the F.T.C. received nearly 500,000 reports of impostor scams, the most widespread type of fraud in which a scammer pretends to be a person, or from a government agency or a business.
People reported $1.2 billion in losses to scams last year, with a median loss of $850, it said. The top categories of scams were related to Covid-19 and stimulus payments, “proving once again, that scammers follow the headlines,” the F.T.C. said.
In Texas, those headlines have been focused on the record-low temperatures of a winter storm that damaged the electrical grid’s infrastructure as well as caused a spike in demand.
The F.T.C. suggests there are several ways to recognize when an unsolicited call or email is a scam. The caller will often insist that you act immediately and specify forms of payment, such as a gift card or through a money transfer company, or say there is a problem, or a prize. They also pretend to be from a known company or organization.
The F.T.C. advises people to block unwanted calls and text messages, and to avoid providing personal or financial information.