With energy scams on the rise, Ontario’s Ministry of Energy (ENE) and the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) have launched a joint awareness campaign to help inform, educate, and protect consumers throughout March, also recognized as Fraud Prevention Month.
Whether it is a lack of knowledge and understanding, or the financial challenges brought about by the economic impact of COVID-19, scammers prey on consumer vulnerability. And, at a time when consumers continue to look for ways to save money, it is of no surprise that natural gas and electricity distribution companies, other sector regulators, the OEB and ministries have all noted a particular increase in scamming activity during the pandemic period. The OEB has seen an increase of 70% of calls year over year with 21% of all calls attributed to the reporting of scams. Despite our direct-to-consumer communications, including three consumer alerts, and news media coverage of the issue, scams continue to be one of our top inquiries to the OEB call centre this year as well.
Creative in their tactics, scammers are using a variety of communication channels and materials to target their audiences including illegitimate phone calls, texts, emails, fake websites, social media, YouTube videos, in-person home visits and traditional advertising. In response, the awareness campaign, bearing the provincial brand mark, uses the same types of channels to target scammers in the environments in which they prey.
We invite your participation. Organic social media posts via LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook will tag energy entities such as the IESO, the OEB, EDA, Enbridge and LDCs so that your organizations and your respective followers can help to spread awareness of the tactics and understanding of the hallmarks of these illegitimate actors.
The campaign also includes planned media outreach as well as communications to targeted social agencies working with seniors, lower income as well as at-risk consumers. Shareable material has been developed that provides a link to a new permanent scams page on the OEB site that provides information and protection tips for consumers. LDCs have also been provided shareables, bill inserts and multi-lingual news articles by the Ministry for use in their customer statements and other communications.
It may look legitimate, but is it? Too often not and the sector has a collective role to play in helping to inform and protect consumers from scamming activity. We thank utilities for their efforts to protect their consumers and applaud those who are partnering with joint campaigns to give prominence to the issue. To learn more please visit www.oeb.ca/scams