Cindy Bailey just wanted the man on the phone to stop the Rochester Gas & Electric trucks from coming to her house to turn off the power.


She had somehow missed multiple mailed notices that her account was overdue. A customer service representative, speaking to Bailey from a number that flashed “Rochester Gas & Electric” on her cell phone caller ID, told her RG&E hadn’t received payments from her since December.


Bailey also takes care of the utility bills for her mother’s home, several doors down. Those bills were behind too.


"They told me the trucks were on their way (to turn my power off,)" said Bailey, 67, of Gates, Monroe County. “I said, ‘But that makes no sense. The money has already been taken out of my account.'"


They told her RG&E had never received her payments, and the only way to stop the service trucks was to pay them more than $700 immediately to settle her accounts.


“I was worried about (my mom’s) heat getting shut off,” she said.


Her mom is 88 and has dementia, and Bailey is her primary caregiver. So Bailey left the house, following the caller’s instructions to buy prepaid debit cards, read the card numbers over the phone and in so doing, bring her accounts into the black.


All the while, she didn’t know there weren’t RG&E trucks patrolling her neighborhood.


She didn’t realize her account, and her mother’s, were paid in full, and had been for months.


She was in the midst of being scammed.


The perpetrators would get $2,100 out of her bank account before she decided to contact RG&E to inquire about her bills.


“I’m humiliated...I’m sick to my stomach,” said Bailey, who works part time and collects Social Security.


Her mom has a surgical procedure coming up, and the $2,100 will cut into their savings.


“It’s going to take a toll. It was money that was available for other things — not for this,” she said.


Bailey is not the only resident to fall victim to phone scams that are becoming more technologically savvy.


Scam operators often create an environment that’s indecipherable from a typical customer experience with a real utility company, using everything from company letterhead to knowledgeable, friendly customer service personnel to dupe customers.


“As they become more sophisticated, it’s certainly a challenge for us,” said Michael Jamison of RG&E. “Bad actors are unfortunately always trying to scam customers, and we’ve really stepped up our efforts to raise awareness.”


Utility companies are easy targets for scammers because residents are afraid of losing their power or heat in the winter.


“Even though it feels like a scam to them, people think, ‘It’s not worth risking,’” he said.


Here are tips to follow:


The telltale signs of an energy scam


If you get a call, email or letter from anyone claiming to speak for your utility company, keep the following things in mind to determine whether you’re actually speaking to a scammer.


Verbal threats to shut off power without warning — Real utility companies likely won’t threaten to shut off your power over the phone. If your account is delinquent, RG&E would send multiple emails and letters before trying to reach you by phone, said Jamison.


Asking for payment in gift cards or prepaid debit cards — This is a classic scam tactic to get around security checks at banks and credit card companies. Bailey was asked to buy $2,100 in prepaid debit cards at local stores and gas stations in cash, and read the card numbers to the scammer over the phone. That made her transactions difficult to trace and refund.


Legitimate utility providers will already have customers’ financial information on file in order to collect payments every month.


They ask for personal information — Scammers may ask for Social Security numbers or other personal identity information that would be “inappropriate” for real utility providers to ask for, especially over the phone, said Jamison.


How to protect yourself


No matter how a call comes in and who the caller claims to be, customers should always be critical of what they’re hearing and check in with their utility company, said Jamison.


Contact your utility provider — Before you engage a caller, even if they sound legitimate, double check all claims by contacting your provider using the information listed on your bill. The company will be able to verify your account status and whether you owe them any money.


Report scams — If you think you’ve been scammed or you receive a suspicious call or email, report it to your utility company. That helps them get the word out through education and awareness campaigns. If you’ve had money stolen from your account, report it to your bank and to police.


“We get a lot of good Samaritans calling in scams,” said Jamison. “They’re really on the front lines in terms of letting us know how scammers are changing their ways and methods.”


If someone shows up at your door, ask for ID — If a legitimate energy employee is working in a neighborhood, he or she will have official identification on them, said Jamison. Customers should ask to see it.


Customers can also call their utility providers to verify whether the company has workers in the area, he said.