Utility companies in Arkansas and across the country report an increasing number of instances where scammers attempt to extort electric customers out of cash by posing as representatives of the company and threatening to cut off customers’ power.
Con artists target small businesses and homeowners, demanding that the consumer pay his or her “overdue” bill immediately, typically with an untraceable cash card, in order to avoid having electricity shut off. Most recently, an Arkansas-based electric provider learned that one scammer was even using the company’s own prerecorded message in a ruse to make the scheme sound more believable.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to let Arkansas consumers know what to watch out for in the event they are targets of this widespread scam.
“Whether or not an electric bill is past due, it is always intimidating for a consumer to receive a call from someone threatening to cut off their electricity,” McDaniel said. “The con artists may try to sound legitimate and they may pretend to have a customer’s interests in mind, but fortunately, there are some tell-tale signs that this is a scam.”
Commercial and residential utility customers – even those who pay their bills on time – have been contacted by scammers. The scam artists may “spoof” a caller ID number to make it appear legitimate, and then tell utility customers that they must pay up within the hour.
McDaniel said there are several ways for consumers to recognize they may be a con artist’s target.
*Utility companies will not ask for payment on a GreenDot MoneyPak card. Scammers, however, will encourage potential victims to pay their “past due” bill with such a card. Consumers are told to share the serial number on the back of the card with the con artist, and the con artist can then access the money loaded onto the card.
*Utility companies never demand immediate payment. While utilities may place courtesy calls to consumers whose service is at risk of being disconnected, the calls are generally by recorded message, and not from customer service representatives. Regardless, those representatives would not require payment by credit card or MoneyPak card immediately.
*Utility companies won’t mind if skeptical consumers call back later. Scam artists want money or personal information, such as credit-card or bank account numbers, immediately. On the other hand, legitimate utility companies will not have a problem with consumers hanging up and calling the company back directly. McDaniel advised consumers to always hang up and call back, if necessary, if an unsolicited caller seems suspicious.
Consumers who are contacted by scam artists in this utility-bill scam should contact their electric provider, local law enforcement or the Attorney General’s Office.
For more information about this and other consumer issues, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call the Consumer Protection Hotline, (800) 482-8982.