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BBB: Utility shutoff scam is back

“I’m sorry but a technician is on his way to shut off your power if you don’t pay me right now. You haven’t paid your bill and if we can’t get a payment over the phone right now we’ll be forced to shut the power off.”

The man on the phone claimed he was from AEP, but the owner of the small grocery store in Floyd County knew he had paid the bill.

He called both the BBB and Appalachian Power and discovered he had been the target of a scam. BBB reported on this same scam back in June of 2013.

Here’s how it works:

A business receives a phone call purportedly from their utility company claiming that their bill is overdue. The caller ID may even display the actual utility company’s name and number.

The caller threatens to shutoff the power within minutes if the company does not pay upwards of $500 through a money wire, pre-paid debit card or credit card. In some cases the caller may actually know the exact amount due on the account.

The caller may also claim a letter was mailed out months earlier announcing the installation of new meters, and that the targeted company ignored the letter and now must pay.

Appalachian Power wants consumers to know the company will never call customers in such a manner.

“Appalachian Power customers should know that we don’t take payments over the phone,” said Todd Burns from Appalachian Power Corporate Communications. “If they are unsure about the situation, please hang up and contact Appalachian Power at the toll-free number on their bill or contact us through our website.”

Julie Wheeler, president and CEO of BBB Serving Western VA, says consumers can no longer completely trust their caller ID.

“These scammers are making these calls using an internet Voice Over IP which can make the call appear to be from anywhere in the country,” said Wheeler. “No matter what the caller ID displays, it is important to use discretion and caution when anyone calls and requests money over the phone. We advise our consumers to just hang up the phone and call their utility company immediately,”

Some BBB Tips:

Confirm that you are speaking to a utility representative.  If you have any concerns, tell the caller that you will independently check the phone number for the utility to verify the caller’s identity and information. The toll free number for Virginia AEP consumers is 800-277-2177.

Be wary of anyone demanding immediate payment or payment in forms that are difficult to trace, such as Western Union, MoneyGram or GreenDot MoneyPak cash cards.

Never give your credit card, debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or savings account numbers to anyone who comes to your home, calls or sends an email requesting information.

Never allow anyone claiming to be a utility service person into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment and the person has proper identification. Contact police if you become concerned about your safety.

If you believe you may be the victim of a scam, you may contact your utility company, or you may call the BBB at 1-800-851-6869.

For more information, contact BBB at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501, or visit www.bbb.org.

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