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Utility companies are stepping up efforts to warn customers about a scam in which a caller claims to be a utility representative. Scammers are telling business owners and residents that their location's electric service account is delinquent. The scammer then threatens that the location's energy will be terminated for non-payment unless the customer pays the amount immediately.
The ploy involves a demand that the customer must purchase a prepaid credit or debit card to avoid disconnection. Once the customer purchases the card, they are then directed to call a specific telephone number and give the account number ad PIN number of the card. After the scammer obtains the card's identifying information, the value is then downloaded, swept and stolen. These transactions are untraceable.
So far, the scam has victimized various customers associated with three utilities including Duke Energy, Dayton Light and Power, and Atlantic City Electric.
Duke Energy announced a radio campaign that aims to educate consumers in its southwest Ohio market about the "emergency payment scam." Dayton Power & Light has been including inserts about the scam in its bills. Atlantic City Electric has reached out to hundreds of its residential and business owner informing them about the scam they call "the green dot." First Energy, Vectren and several other consumer protection agencies have also pushed out alerts to customers about the scam.
"DP&L gets calls periodically from customers who have been taken advantage of by scammers using different cons to get personal information or cash in fraudulent ways. Some have asked for pre-paid debit cards to pay a bill or replace equipment," the DP&L notice says.
Atlantic City Electric advises customers to ask for official photo identification from any person who shows up at their door. Employees from reputable companies will carry official company identification cards. If proper identification cannot be produced, customers should notify police and the company with whom the individual claims to be associated.
"The radio campaign is just another way to educate the public," said Duke Energy spokeswoman Kristina Hill. She said they receive numerous calls each day from people who have been targeted by this scam.
All utility companies urge anyone who receives a suspicious call about payment to reach out to their customer service numbers and make sure the request was legitimate. The utilities also noted that they would not demand immediate payment in this way. They all offer multiple ways to pay electric bills including by mail, online or in person and will send multiple communications about delinquent accounts before disconnection.
If someone claims to represent a company, whether the company is a utility or another entity, customers are urged to verify the person is affiliated with the company, especially if that person is requesting an immediate monetary payment. The Federal Trade Commission has some additional helpful tips to avoid scams over the telephone.