Recently the Better Business Bureau issued a warning to alert consumers in the U.S. and Canada about a new utility scam. Thieves are calling residences and posing as representatives of local electric, water or gas company. The scammers tell the consumer that they are running late on utility payment, and they need to make a payment immediately.

Instead of accepting a phone payment of a credit card or check — such as your utility company does — the scammers are requiring you to make payments with a prepaid debit card. They tell you to go purchase one at the grocery store or bank and call them back with the payment information. They then take the information you've given them about the prepaid debit card to imprint a new prepaid debit card.

The BBB reported that thieves are turning to prepaid debit cards because regulations and rules for wire transfers have gotten more strict, and prepaid debit cards do not require any identification to use. Also, these cards are difficult to trace because they are intended for one-time use.

Here are some ways that you can protect yourself from this utility bill scam.

1. Don't pay bills with a prepaid debit cards: Companies that provide utility services don't accept payments with prepaid debit cards. If someone does call you and insists that you pay your overdue bill with a prepaid debit card then you should not give them any personal information. Hang up the phone and report the scam to the BBB.

2. Verify the caller. If you get a call from someone claiming to be a representative from your utility service that is threatening to turn off your utilities, make sure this person actually works for your utility company. The best way to do this is to hang up the phone, and call the phone number listed on your utility bill. Tell the customer service representative that you wanted to inquire about your bill because you just received a call from someone saying that you're past due. The representative will be able to tell you the status of your bill.

The BBB also reminds consumers to not allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have a scheduled appointment with your utility provider. Also, call your utility company to verify they have sent someone to check the safety of your home.

If you feel that you have been contacted by a scammer and revealed your personal information, then you might want to consider signing up for an identity theft protection service. These services monitor your personal information to make sure it isn't being sold to thieves or used inappropriately. In the instance that they notice something out-of-the ordinary or phishy, they will send you alert to verify the activity was done by you and not a thief. Check out this blog to learn why identity theft protection is a useful service to have, and visit our Identity Theft Protection Compare Page to find out what each service offers in terms of protection.

Identity Guard, Identity Theft Protection, LifeLock, TrustedID