HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- They look legit and sound convincing, but scam artists posing as utility workers is a big problem here in Houston. To experiment, we dressed up one of our staffers to look like a utility worker and teamed up with CenterPoint and law enforcement, and hit the streets.
Armed with a safety vest and hard hat, our staffer was ready to go. Surprisingly, some homeowners told us to go right ahead, without asking questions.
"It's probably best to go around here and through the gate," one homeowner told us.
"You can go through the gate that goes to the backyard," another said.
After revealing our true identity, we asked them what was credible about our utility worker Owen?
"He did look convincing. The jacket and the hard hat fooled me," homeowner Catherine Watkins said.
"He knew what he was going to say, like he's a seasoned pro," homeowner Natalie Swanson explained.
Harris County Pct. 1 Constable Alan Rosen told us, "We have seen burglaries that have taken place as a result of these types of tactics. And then, they distract you in the front or back of the house and then somebody else, another group, breaks into the front of the house. And so it's important to ask for company identification, work orders."
Homeowner Tia Alexander had a similar experience with a questionable utility worker earlier this year. She was alarmed after noticing a man staring at her home. His image was captured by home security cameras, and she met him by the front gate.
"And he said, 'I'm with CenterPoint. I need to read your meter.' I said, 'do you have ID or is there a number I can call?' And he was like, 'if you don't trust me just forget about it!'" Alexander said.
Alexander says he quickly drove off in his truck.
John Slanina, with CenterPoint Energy, says this is an ongoing problem.
"Typically, we will get a call once every two weeks. If they do not have an ID badge, and they look suspicious, we want you to contact CenterPoint Energy and we also want you to call the police," Slanina said.
During our neighborhood experiment, there were a few homeowners who didn't fall for it. Travis Welch didn't take the bait.
"Oftentimes, there's scams of all sorts, so I just thought it was important to ask the gentleman some questions to make sure that he was legitimate," Welch said.
Wendy Robbins and her dog both had their guards up, too.
"The dog was barking and just wouldn't let anybody in without an ID," Robbins said.
Alexander says after her experience, she can't stress enough the importance of asking for identification.
"Protecting your safety is not being impolite. It's OK to ask questions and validate and, we just live in a society that it is just basic practice," Alexander explained.
Here are some tips:
- Always ask a utility worker for identification before letting them on your property
- Never let anyone in your home you do not trust
- Call CenterPoint Energy (713-659-2111) or the company the worker states they're representing to confirm the work orders
- If you need additional assistance with identification, contact local law enforcement
- If you have a security camera or video doorbell, law enforcement can use that footage in case a crime is committed