In December, a WFEC member was contacted by a scam artist using cooperative employee names and an app that made it look as though the phone call were coming from the cooperative office. This member
was told that if they didn’t make payment of $1,500 immediately that their power would be shut off. Unfortunately, our member lost some money because this person was very convincing.
The scam that duped our member has been plaguing utility consumers across North America for several years, robbing them of millions. Now, utilities are fighting back.
Recently, more than 80 utilities and energy industry organizations from across the U.S. and Canada joined forces to recognize the first-ever North American Utilities United Against Scams Day.
Electric co-ops have increased their communication efforts, sending information directly to members and encouraging local TV stations and newspapers to warn citizens about the scam, how it works and what people should do and not do, if they are ever targeted.
Even the wariest consumers can be duped, as demonstrated by what happened at our co-op locally. The
scammers are developing new tactics every day. 99875001
The “past due” scam, similar to the one our member experienced, goes something like this: A customer gets
a call from an 800-number that looks like a valid utility company phone number. Widely available spoofing software allows crooks to display what appears to be an official number on caller IDs. The caller threatens to cut off power if the customer doesn’t pay.
But here’s the giveaway: The crook will demand payment via a prepaid debit card or money order. And he’ll ask for it within a specified time frame––often an hour or less. The scammer may even quote an amount that sounds like your typical monthly bill. That way, the threat has even more credibility. Scammers might direct the customer to a specific store nearby that sells the prepaid cards and instruct the customer to put money on the card and provide the card number to the scammer.
Some scammers have even been bold enough to contact potential victims in person, coming to the member’s house. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself:
• Do not assume the name and number on your caller ID are legitimate. Caller IDs can be spoofed. 42761005
• Never share your personal information, including date of birth, Social Security number or banking account information.
• Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
• Do not click links or call numbers in unexpected emails or texts – especially those asking for your account information.
• Most utilities will NOT require their customers to purchase prepaid debit cards or money orders to avoid
an immediate disconnection.
• If you receive a call that sounds like it may be a scam, or if you believe the call is a scam, hang up, call the police and report the incident to your local utility.
How you can help You can alert your family members and friends. Share the scammers’ tactics described in this article or those you have heard about. You can also help raise awareness and warn others by reposting scam awareness information on social media; use the hashtag #stopscams.
Please remember, that WFEC only contacts its members if there is an outage situation, electrical service or billing issue. The best practice is to never give your personal information to anyone over the phone unless you initiate the call. If you ever question a call you receive or whether someone is a WFEC employee or represents the co-op, please hang up and call (800) 342-7400 with any questions.
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Replace conventional power strips with advanced power strips to help reduce electricity wasted when electronic devices are idle.