Protecting yourself against scams

Protecting yourself against scams

When a scammer called Florida pet clinic operator Cindy Evers last year and demanded immediate payment on an overdue electric bill, it sounded real.

“They knew my account number and gave me a figure that I owed that’s close to what I usually pay on my electric bill,” Evers said. She paid, even though, in the back of her mind, she knew her payment wasn’t late.

“I have pets under sedation, and I’m taking care of animals. I think I just panicked, thinking they were going to shut my electricity off. I did what they told me to do.”

Evers lost $900 because the call was a scam.

The scam that duped Evers has been plaguing utility consumers across North America for several years, robbing them of millions.

Even the wariest consumers can be duped. Scammers are developing new tactics every day.

The “past due” scam, similar to the one Florida customer Evers 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. They will ask for it within a specified time frame–often an hour or less. The scammer may even quote an amount sounding like your typical monthly bill, making the threat sound even more credible. 

Scammers might direct the consumer to a specific store nearby selling 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.

Recently Western Farmers Electric Cooperative sent information about a scam effecting a WFEC member-customer. The member had been contacted by a number belonging to WFEC offering the member vacations and trips. Although the number is a WFEC number, the call did not originate from WFEC. 

Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperative, was notified other Co-op members in the state had received phone calls from people claiming to be affiliated with their local Co-op. The caller claimed the members could get a rebate because of good payment history. 

Be aware of scammers and 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. 
• 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 sounding 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.

REC will not call and ask for personal information on the phone. If you have questions or receive a suspicious phone call, please call our office 1-800-259-3504 and do not give out your personal information.

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