Wednesday is Utilities United Against Scams Day, designed to focus the spotlight on the ongoing problem of crooks who try to pry money from unsuspecting electric and gas customers by threatening service termination.

Public Service Electric and Gas spokeswoman Brooke Houston says it is really hard to stop scammers. The only way to make scammers jobs harder is to create awareness, she said.

She says a customer might get a call from someone claiming to be from the utility, threatening a cut off unless immediate payment is made with a prepaid card. "We do not want to cut service off to any customer," Houston says.

Houston says in this scam, someone pretends to be a PSE&G employee, and threatens to shut off power immediately. The scammer gives a fake number for this unsuspecting person to call back. When they do call back, with a prepaid card, the thieves immediately take that money: "It is just gone within seconds."

"We contact customers in a number of ways. We send letters. We have messages on their bills. And also we will make outbound phone calls. We want to work with customers on payment plans so that they can afford their bills," she says. But one thing the utility doesn't do: Demand payment with a prepaid card.

PSE&G is joining with 80 utilities, including Jersey Central Power & Light and New Jersey Resources, in "Utilities United Against Scams Collaborative."

"If you receive a call, and you are in any way in doubt, hang up and call us," Houston said. You can find a valid customer service number on your utility bill.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 3 million consumers filed fraud complaints last year. Phone scams are among the most common complaints.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon anchor on New Jersey 101.5.