BBB Tip: Preparing for winter weather and avoiding scams

Plummeting temperatures across Texas are forcing residents to dust off their winter jackets, bring in their plants and prepare for below-freezing temperatures. 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 winter supplies online to be cautious of scammers looking to capitalize on the increased demand, as well as remain skeptical of suspicious contact from a utility provider.

Preparing for Winter Weather

While it may be difficult to have a trustworthy contractor winterize your home before the cold weather arrives, there are steps that you can take to protect your investment. Cold weather can often freeze the water in your pipes, causing the line to expand and break. Leaving a slow drip running on faucets and outdoor hose connections can help prevent the pipe from freezing entirely. In case a major rupture does occur, familiarize yourself with the location of your main water shutoff, as well as how to operate it. It may be best to stage a few tools, such as a wrench or pliers, close to the valve so it can be quickly closed.

Take the time to review your insurance policy and understand what types of damage your provider will cover due to freezing weather and what they will not. Walk around the perimeter of your house and check for anything that may present a hazard, such as tree limbs over the house or driveway that may break from ice or freezing sap. If cutting down the tree or branches is not an option, try to cover the area falling limbs would most likely impact with something that will help absorb the shock and protect what is underneath.

Be careful any time you are driving in icy conditions, and make sure your window wipers are in excellent condition to keep your visibility clear. The salt placed on roads to help prevent ice can also corrode your vehicle’s structure and bearings, which you can manage 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 and fill your vehicle’s fluid levels, especially antifreeze and oil, 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. Attempts to contact the seller or company through the provided support email or customer service line often go unanswered, and receiving a refund may require the buyer to pay the shipping costs to send the item back.

This year, Texas residents have reported $1.2 million lost to fraudulent online purchases and a common strategy of these scams is leveraging seasonal trends. For example, BBB typically sees an increase in reports of synthetic leather jackets being advertised as real leather during the winter, as well as other winter apparel. Scammers often impersonate legitimate businesses when contacting their targets and use language designed to encourage immediate decisions. Better Business Bureau recommends exercising caution when:

  • Purchasing name-brand or luxury coats and jackets that are advertised at a fraction of their typical price.
  • Sellers who insist on payment through gift cards, wire transfers or mobile banking apps.
  • Unsolicited emails from recognized retailers offering deals on winter products such as diesel generators.

If looking to purchase these types of products online, it is recommended to navigate directly to the retailer’s official website rather than clicking on any links contained in an email. Scammers are well-versed in creating look-alike websites with subtle differences in the website address 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 under these same conditions, except where there is a known dangerous condition originating from the gas being supplied to the residence.

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

For more tips on preparing for and recovering from freezing temperatures, including dealing with possible damages to homes and businesses, visit

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.