Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Pull the plug on utility scams

Pull the plug on utility scams

From The Best Times
I borrowed the title of this column from an alert Memphis Light, Gas and Water issued about a scam the BBB has warned about for years. Most consumers know better, but some let their emotions get out in front of their common sense and fall for it.

In February, a Memphis woman got a call from a person claiming to be with MLGW, saying she was delinquent on her bill and threatening to cut off her power if she didn’t make a payment immediately.

Caller ID said “MLGW” and the person was so intimidating that she ultimately wired $2,900 in six separate payments. Sometimes the crooks will demand payment using gift or prepaid debit cards, a money transfer app, or even cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

In just one week last year, we received 37 reports to our BBB Scam Tracker service about the scam. It was during the high heat of the summer and, worried about losing their air conditioning, 25 of the people paid the scammers. All were seniors.

The scam isn’t unique to MLGW and Memphis. If you Google “utility scam” you’ll see pages and pages of warnings from utilities, BBBs, regulators and the media.

And it isn’t just consumers who are targeted. The owner of a well-known restaurant in Memphis got a call telling him he had one hour to pay a past due bill of $1,062. When he asked to speak to a supervisor, he was given an 800 number that was answered “MLGW” by someone who sounded suspiciously like the original caller.

He didn’t fall for the scam, but a Bossier City, Louisiana, business owner did. Just before the start of the Valentine’s Day weekend, the owner of a chocolate candy shop got a call purportedly from her local utility telling her she had 40 minutes to pay a past due bill or have her power cut off. She paid using a pre-paid debit card, but like the Memphis consumer, the crooks called back saying she needed to make another payment. She did, but finally realized it was a scam after receiving a third call.

MLGW says it will never call and demand money over the phone. While MLGW mails cut-off notices to customers and uses auto-dialers alerting them that payment must be made by a certain date to avoid cutoff, it will never ask customers to call a 1-800 number or buy a prepaid debit card. Residential customers should call 901-544-6549 and business customers should call MLGW’s Commercial Resource Center at 901-528-4270 if they have concerns.

The BBB would add:

Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason.

Be wary of any caller who asks you to make a payment with a prepaid debit card, a gift card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency. Scammers prefer these payment methods because there’s nothing you can do to get your money back.

Never give out personal or financial information to anyone who emails or calls you unsolicited.

Report any scam to https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker.

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