With Cold Winter Weather Comes Ice, Snow, and Scams

The cold weather brings out a couple of different types of scammers

With Cold Winter Weather Comes Ice, Snow, and Scams
Image: NCCC
January 10, 2017

It's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago North Carolina was seeing early summer temperatures. Now that we're heading into more seasonable weather, cold weather scams may start making the rounds.

The cold weather brings out a couple of different types of scammers. Some threaten to turn off your power, while others do a shoddy job clearing your driveway or fixing your heating system.

Here we'll take a look at some of the more common winter scams that make the rounds.

Utility Scams

Utility scams happen all year but pick up in the winter and summer months when extreme cold and heat make people reliant on their home's heating and cooling system. The threat of being without heat when snow is forecasted can make someone an easy target for easy money.

Scammers call unsuspecting victims threatening to turn off the power unless an unpaid overdue balance is paid. It's the cold-weather version of a common scam. Payments are usually made using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or some other untraceable method.

If you are overdue on your bill, the power company will make multiple attempts by mail – or email, depending on how your account is set up – to collect before sending you a warning notice that your power will be turned off. Usually there is a date associated with power shut off along with any related reconnection fees. Utility companies in North Carolina will NOT, under any circumstance, demand payment via gift card or reloadable debit card. If you think there is a problem with your account, call the company back on a number you know is valid.

Heating Equipment Scams

While maybe not a traditional scam, these situations can be filed under poor and deceptive business practices.

There's nothing inherently wrong with getting your heating system inspected and cleaned. It could help you spot small problems before they turn into big problems. This should only cost about $100. The problem comes in when your technician immediately tries to pressure you into expensive ductwork or equipment replacement.

Don't sign on the dotted line until you get a second opinion from a reliable company.

If your heating equipment suddenly doesn't work, don't rush to call for emergency service. Check to ensure your thermostat is working properly first. It may have a dead battery of which you were previously unaware. If you notice other electrical problems (flickering lights, outlets that don't really work), call your electric company. There may be a problem with the electrical grid that is affecting large appliances like your heat pump.

Snow Removal Scams

Often construction and landscape workers will spend the off season doing snow removal work by plowing parking lots, private streets and even driveways. In areas that see snow regularly, setting up a snow-removal agreement sounds like a good way to ensure your driveway is clear. But, unlike a landscaper that comes every week to cut your grass, the weather is a much more unpredictable.

Make sure that your agreement is in writing and that it includes the description and cost for services. Never pay the full amount up front and be wary of anyone that demands more than 10 percent before services start. If you signed the contract in your home, you have three days to cancel and you must be given a refund of any down payment you made.

The snow and ice might also bring people to your door offering their immediate services. Maybe it's your neighbor's kid looking to make some extra spending cash. It could also be some not-so-honest adults looking to make a quick buck. If you do wish to take advantage of these services, don't pay anything until the job is done and you approve of the work.