Officials warn of cold weather scammers

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ROCKFORD - Frigid temperatures can pose more than just weather exposure risks, with the freezing conditions possibly bringing out cold weather scammers, business watchdog officials warn.

The cold snap could tempt scammers to hunt for easy ways to make money, according to Better Business Bureau Rockford Regional Office Director Dennis Horton.

The cold weather puts a strain on furnaces, while plumbing problems can surface or residents might need help with snow removal. Horton reminds Stateline Area residents to "do your homework" and avoid being tempted by door-knockers soliciting services.

Horton urged residents to be wary of fake utility workers, posing as furnace or plumbing contractors, during the winter months.

"A tip-off to the rip-offs are random calls or knocks on your door with inspection offers or winter services," Horton said. "Never accept any service or allow a stranger into your home without checking with the BBB and the utility company they may claim to represent."

Horton said utility scammers often make calls threatening immediate shut off of utilities during extreme cold.

"If someone asks you to wire money or pay within 30 minutes, that is a scam," Horton said.

Utility providers in both Illinois and Wisconsin cannot shut off service during the winter months, from November through March. Director of Water Resources Harry Mathos said he had not heard of any utility scams this winter, but cautioned residents be aware of possible scams.

To protect against scams, Mathos reminded residents the city would be contacted by mail if an account is overdue. If a caller demands a utility payment by debit card or wire transfer, it's a scam, officials said.

According to the Beloit Fire Department, fire staff learned of a possible scam after an individual allegedly called a victim and said he was a "representative" of the department, which was partnering with other local agencies to offer services, according to a department news release. The department confirmed it has not reached out to partner with any agencies at this time "for any reason," according to the release.

Department officials ask residents call the department at 608-364-2900 if residents are "unsure about the legitimacy of a phone call" from the department.

If residents are unsure of the status of an account, contact the relevant service provider using contact information listed on their most recent bills, according to a city scam protection checklist.

Patience with familiar contractors is key in handling winter weather, Horton stressed.

"People can get into trouble when the contractor they would normally use is too busy to provide them service right away," Horton said. "Don't panic; or a cheap estimate could turn into an outrageously expensive repair."

To check certified businesses or contractors, visit BBB.org/ask. To track scams, visit BBB.org/scamtracker.

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