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Be Aware of Power Shut Off Scams - BBB Article

Our business has received an alert from the Better Business Bureau of a new scam currently affecting First Energy and AEP customers. Please read their article below.


BBB has received several complaints about electric power shutoff scams currently targeting consumers AND businesses in both the Toledo and Lima areas.  Utility bill and power shutoff phone and email scams have been around for years but these latest tactics are bold, aggressive and, for some, scary because they involve actual people entering the property in person, dressed as service technicians, and demanding immediate payment. In one recent case, an impostor dressed like a technician entered a local insurance agency in Oregon and walked directly past the front desk, looking for the meter and service panel, and claiming payment was needed immediately. This agent-owner might be willing to appear with BBB on air for a story. The problem appears coordinated because it follows a pattern and is hitting our area hard right now. Often, scams perpetuated by organizations instead of individuals are widespread and target a region heavily before moving on to other areas. These current “utility impostor” scams seem to follow that pattern. Both FirstEnergy (for Toledo) and AEP (for Lima) have warnings on their websites about these bold scams.FirstEnergy’s website says, in part:

 

“Power Shut Off Scams 

Caller or visitor demands immediate payment AKA: Pre-Paid Debit Card Payment Scam, Green Dot, Money Gram, or Western Union scam

In this widespread scam, which frequently targets small businesses, a telephone caller poses as an electric utility company employee. The caller threatens to shut off the customer’s power unless an immediate payment is made. In many cases, the customer is told to use a pre-paid debit card, such as a Green Dot/MoneyPak card, or a money transfer service like Money Gram or Western Union.

The facts:

  • If your account is past due, you will receive a written notice of your account status, with instructions on how to avoid disconnection of service.  

  • While our representative may call a customer whose bill is in arrears in order to remind them that a payment is due, the representative would explain how a payment can be made using our established payment options. They will not demand payment over the phone, in person, or at a particular physical location.

  • Our utilities do not accept prepaid debit cards or wire transfers as payment, and our representatives will not demand your bank information or credit card number over the phone. 

What should you do:

  • If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately. 

  • Be aware that scammers often use Caller ID spoofing software to misrepresent the source of a phone call, or provide you with a fake "verification" phone number. These call-back numbers may even include exact replicas of company greetings and hold messaging. If you would like to verify your account status, always call our Customer Service department using the numbers on our website, or log in to your account on our website.  

  • If a person appears at your door demanding payment, do not allow them into your home, and do not provide them with any personal information.

  • If you believe you have been a victim of this scam, please contact your local police department or your state attorney general’s office, and report telephone scams to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov

Utility Imposters

Criminals posing as sales or service people

In this scam, individuals appear at the door, claiming to be affiliated with one of FirstEnergy’s utility companies. The scam artists often work in pairs, are very persistent, and use a variety of excuses to gain personal information or access to your home. In some cases, once access is gained and/or the victim is distracted outside, the home has been robbed.

These criminals may try to distract victims by requesting a copy of the resident's utility bill, allegedly to "see if you're getting the lowest rate." Another tactic reported to police involves a pair of people claiming to be tree trimmers contracted by the utility. One individual walked the property with the homeowner, while the other took items from the home. 

The facts:

  • These individuals do not represent FirstEnergy, our utilities, or subsidiaries. Our utility employees do not solicit door-to-door, and they would not ask you to provide a copy of your electric bill.

  • While some third-party generation suppliers may use door-to-door sales tactics, they should represent themselves as such; not as affiliates of our company.

  • If a utility employee or authorized contractor needs access to your home or needs to review an issue with you, an appointment will be scheduled in advance, and proper identification will be provided for your review.

What you should do:

  • Do not allow these individuals into your home, and do not provide them with your utility bill or other personal information.

  • Do not leave your home unattended to accompany an individual who shows up without an appointment.

  • Report them to your local law enforcement authorities.”

AEP also provides this online warning:

“Criminals will do anything to steal money from unsuspecting victims. With the COVID-19 pandemic and holidays right around the corner, this is a particularly high-risk time for many people including senior citizens, low-income residents, and understaffed small businesses.

It’s important to be alert and know how to spot the signs of a scammer. Scammers posing as AEP Ohio employees often target those who are most vulnerable, including senior citizens, low-income residents, and small business owners. Have a conversation with your older loved ones about the importance of recognizing scams so that they’re not victims of fraud and putting their financial safety at risk.

Whether they approach by phone, email, or at your front door, scammers typically claim to be an AEP Ohio employee. These imposters will threaten to shut your power off if you don’t make an immediate payment. We’ve also recently learned of scammers targeting our customers with automated calls, threatening disconnection. Please know, we don’t make automated phone calls with important information about your account status. 

You’re probably talking to a scammer if they:

  • Demand immediate payment

  • Insist a payment be made with a prepaid credit card

  • Ask to meet at another location to make a payment

Here are some key ways to recognize scams and stay safe:

  • If you’re told your account is past due, you should check your account status online.

  • Only make payments online at AEPOhio.com or through mail, online, by phone or at authorized payment locations.

  • AEP Ohio employees are always willing to show their company IDs. Just ask.

  • If you’re ever unsure about someone’s identity, call AEP Ohio at (800) 672-2231.

 

I apologize for the length of this Press Release but felt it was important to cite FirstEnergy and AEP’s warnings.

This Article/Press Release is Re-Publishable By the Receiving Media if BBB Is Shown as the Original Author – BBB Retains Original Authorship Rights and Disclaims All Liabilities Resulting From Any Use; Always Fact Check Before Publishing or CitingLane MontzPresident¦CEOBetter Business Bureau® and Better Business Bureau Ethics Foundation, Inc.7668 King's Pointe Rd., Toledo, OH 43617Tel: 419-578-6000Mobile: 419-467-3819BBB.org

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