Plummeting temperatures across the U.S. and in Texas are forcing residents to dust off their winter jackets, bring in their plants and prepare for below-freezing temperatures in the coming days. Many residents have clear memories of February 2021’s winter storm that resulted in widespread power outages and are actively making purchases to prepare for another worst-case scenario. While taking winter preparation seriously is important, Better Business Bureau advises consumers purchasing last-minute winter supplies online to be cautious of scammers looking to capitalize on the increased demand and provides some general cold weather preparation tips.
Preparing for Winter Weather
While it may be difficult to arrange to have a trustworthy contractor winterize your home before the cold weather arrives this week, there are steps that you can take to protect your investment. Familiarize yourself with where your main water shutoff is located and how to operate it in case of a major pipe rupture. Cold weather can often freeze the water in your pipes, causing the line to expand and break. It is generally recommended to leave a slow drip running on faucets and outdoor hose connections to prevent the pipe from freezing entirely.
Take the time to review your insurance policy and understand what damages the insurance company will cover from cold weather and what they won’t. Take a walk around the perimeter of your house and check for anything that may present a hazard in the cold weather, paying particular attention to any tree limbs over the house or driveway that may break from the increased weight of ice. If cutting down the tree or branches is not an option, try to cover the area it would most likely fall with something that will help absorb the impact and protect what is underneath.
If venturing out during freezing temperatures when ice is likely to have formed on the roads, be very careful, but also make sure that your window wipers are in excellent condition to keep your visibility clear. The salt on roads can also corrode your vehicle’s structure and bearings, which you can prevent with a fresh coat of wax or by spraying down the vehicle with water once you’ve arrived home. It may seem weird to wash your car during cold weather, but frozen water is much gentler on the paint and metals than salt. Also, check your fluid levels, especially your antifreeze and oil levels, and top them up to prevent damage to the engine.
Purchasing Winter Products Online
From heavy winter jackets to pocket warmers and backup generators, BBB Scam Tracker regularly receives reports of fraudulent online sellers advertising cold weather products and supplies that are either never delivered, of significantly less quality than advertised, or does not operate once received. Attempting to contact the seller or company through the provided support email or customer service line often go unanswered or unhelpful, and receiving a supposed refund requires the buyer to ship the product back out of their own pocket.
This December, Texas residents have reported $50,000 lost to fraudulent online purchases, primarily to last-minute holiday shopping and gifts, doubling the amount lost to these scams in December 2021. One Dallas-area resident purchased a jacket earlier this month that was advertised as genuine leather, only to receive a damaged jacket made of artificial leather from a foreign shipping company even though the business claimed to be headquartered in California. When attempting to return the damaged product, the buyer reported they, “can’t find an address or phone number for the company that is supposed to be in California. I found the exact same jacket on Amazon for $50, but at least it’s advertised as [polyurethane] and not genuine leather.”
Scammers often impersonate legitimate businesses when contacting their targets. Better Business Bureau recommends exercising caution when:
If purchasing these types of products online, it is recommended to navigate directly to the retailer’s official website rather than clicking on any links in an email. Scammers are well-versed in creating look-alike websites with minor differences in the website address designed to steal money and personal information.
Avoiding Utility Scams
Decreasing temperatures also opens the opportunity for utility scammers to take advantage of people’s fears of being without heat during the cold weather. Be wary of texts, phone calls or emails from the utility company that services your area claiming that they will shut your heat off immediately unless a payment is made. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, an electric utility company cannot disconnect a customer anywhere in its service area on a day when:
The previous day’s highest temperature did not exceed 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature is predicted to remain at or below that level for the next 24 hours, according to the nearest National Weather Service (NWS) reports.
For residents who rely on a gas heating system rather than electric, disconnection of a delinquent residential customer is prohibited, except where there is a known dangerous condition or use of natural gas service in a manner that is dangerous or unreasonably interferes with service to others, during an extreme weather emergency when:
The previous day's highest temperature did not exceed 32 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperature is predicted to remain at or below that level for the next 24 hours, according to the nearest National Weather Station for the county where the customer takes service.
If contacted by your utility company demanding immediate payment during freezing temperatures, remain calm and contact your utility company through the phone number listed on your most recent bill to verify the situation. Complaints against a utility company for failure to comply with any of the Public Utility Commission of Texas’ rules can be filed online at https://puc.texas.gov/.
For more tips on preparing for and recovering from freezing temperatures, including dealing with possible damages to homes and businesses, visit BBB.org/Winter.
If you have been a scam victim, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided helps Better Business Bureau warn and educate consumers of scam tactics and may prevent another person from falling victim.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2021, people turned to BBB more than 200 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 25,000 charities, free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas, which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas.