Disaster scammers target Texas blackout victims

A freezing winter storm passed through Texas and parts of the Midwest over the weekend, straining parts of the state’s electricity grid to the point of blackouts. But with many Texans struggling to heat their homes, disaster scammers have reportedly been taking advantage of the disaster to try to steal account info.

In a tweet on Tuesday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, warned followers that social media scammers were posing as electricity workers and asking people to text them their private account numbers.

“Don’t do it!” the company said in a tweet. “We don’t need any of your info to get your power back on — we are working as fast as we possibly can.”

There is a scam circulating on social media asking customers 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 (@ERCOT_ISO) February 16, 2021

Generally, it’s a bad idea to hand over private information — from account numbers to passwords — over the phone or through text message. Scammers oftentimes make big promises for pieces of information like “how much money you make, how much you owe, or your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number,” according to The Federal Trade Commission. These promises could be anything from getting your electricity turned back on to winning an Amazon gift card.

Disaster scams like these aren’t unusual. After natural disasters, FEMA has warned survivors not to offer personal or financial information over the phone if the person on the other line does not adequately identify themselves as a government employee. Scammers often pose as FEMA or other government employees during disaster situations like this week’s winter storm in Texas.

In order to protect yourself from text, phone, or email scammers, the Federal Communications Commission asks that if an insurance, electric, or government employee calls you asking for money, to hang up on them. Then, call the company on your own before handing over any personal or financial information.

The FCC also asks that survivors verify information in social media posts before making a donation to an organization or on a crowdfunding website like GoFundMe.

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