News Column

Utility Bill Scam Targets Hispanics, Elderly

June 18, 2013

A reported scam targeting Hispanics, the elderly and businesses involves people posing as utility company representatives and threatening to turn off the power unless a delinquent bill is quickly paid.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli Monday warned Virginians of the scam recently reported by customers of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Dominion Virginia Power and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. The latter two companies serve Culpeper residents.

As part of the scam, a phony power company employee demands payment within a matter of hours, encouraging those on the other end of the line to go to Walmart or another retailer to purchase a Green Dot Visa card or other pre-paid debit card. This way, the funds could be loaded onto the card and the scam artist gets a payment over the phone.

The scammers sometimes are able to gain an additional aura of legitimacy by "spoofing" the power company's phone number so that the customer's Caller ID makes it appear that it is actually the utility provider, according to Cuccinelli's news release.

To avoid falling prey to this scam, the attorney general offered the following tips: 1) always attempt to verify the identity of any caller claiming to represent a business. Do not provide money or personal information to an unsolicited caller whose identity you cannot verify; 2) always take your time making a decision -- legitimate companies will not pressure you to make a snap decision; 3) if you receive a call like described above, do not make a payment by purchasing a Green Dot card or other means; immediately contact your utility to report the call and verify your account status and 4) if you received a call like described above and you made a payment to the scammer, report the incident to local law enforcement and/or state or federal law enforcement agencies like the Federal Trade Commission.

"Scammers are always coming up with new tricks to take away your hard-earned money," Cuccinelli said. "Taking advantage of innocent people is intolerable, shameful and appalling, especially in this tough economy, and my office will not stand for it."

A legitimate utility provider would never ask customers to make a payment in a specific way such as a pre-paid debit card. In addition, power companies typically inform customers of delinquent bills through the mail and not over the phone, according to the release.

Have questions? Call the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection at (800) 552-9963 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.


(c)2013 the Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, Va.)

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Source: Copyright Culpeper Star-Exponent (VA) 2013

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