ATTORNEY GENERAL WARNS VIRGINIANS OF BILL PAYMENT SCAM TARGETING UTILITY CUSTOMERS
Attorney General Cuccinelli warns Virginians of bill payment scam targeting utility customers
~Instances have been reported to date by customers of Dominion Virginia Power, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative~
RICHMOND (June 17, 2013) - Today, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli warned Virginians to be cautious of scam phone calls from individuals who claim to be an employee of their electric utility provider and demand immediate payment of their bill. There have been several recent reports of citizens receiving calls, where the caller claims to be a company employee and threatens to shut off electric service unless a delinquent bill is paid within a matter of hours. Those called are then encouraged to go to Walmart or another retailer to purchase a Green Dot Visa card or other pre-paid debit card so that funds can be loaded onto the card and a payment can be made over the phone to the scammer. The scammers appear to be specifically targeting Spanish-speaking customers, the elderly, and businesses in the state. The scammers sometimes are able to gain an additional aura of legitimacy by "spoofing" the utility's phone number so that the citizen's Caller ID makes it appear they are receiving a phone call from their utility.
Instances have been reported to date by customers of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Dominion Virginia Power, and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.
Cuccinelli urged all Virginians to protect themselves from these scammers and offers these tips.
Always attempt to verify the identity of any individual calling you who claims to represent a business. Do not provide money or personal information to an unsolicited caller whose identity you are not able to verify.
Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.
If you receive a call along the lines described, do not make a payment by purchasing a Green Dot card or other means. Please do immediately contact your utility's local office to report the call and to verify your account status.
If you received a call along the lines described and you made a payment to the scammer, report that information to your local law enforcement. You may also report this information to state or federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.
"Scammers are always coming up with new tricks to take away your hard-earned money. Taking advantage of innocent people is intolerable, shameful, and appalling-- especially in this tough economy-- and my office will not stand for it," said Cuccinelli.
Consumers should know that, although it is possible that their utility may contact them by phone if they are delinquent on a bill, the utility will never direct them to make a payment in a specific form, for example, by Green Dot Card. In those situations, the utility will only inform the customer of how they may make a payment, such as by coming to the corporate office and providing a check, money order or cash, or mailing a check with their most recent bill, or contacting the corporate office and paying by credit or debit card.
Consumers also should know that their utility typically will not communicate with them about the potential termination of their electric service over the phone but instead will do so only through a mailed communication.
"We are taking the necessary steps to inform the citizens of Virginia that scammers are real, and educating them on how to protect themselves," said Cuccinelli.
If you have questions about this scam, the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection telephone counselors are available to assist you with your consumer questions. Please call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-552-9963 if calling from Virginia, or 804-786-2042 if calling from the Richmond area. The Consumer Protection office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Customers of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperatives can call toll-free at 1-800-234-7832 and speak with a customer service representative regarding any questions or concerns.
Customers of Dominion Power can call toll-free at 1-866-366-4357 and speak with a customer service representative.
Customers of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative can call toll-free at 1-800-552-3904 to speak with a customer service representative.