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Today is November 21, 2018

Editorial

Scammers prey on your fear of electric service disconnection

By Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan
Michael Callahan,
Executive Vice President/CEO
EPAs of Mississippi

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I feel it’s necessary to warn our members once again to be on guard for phone scammers, including those demanding payment of a so-called overdue power bill.

Scammers may threaten their victims with everything from legal action involving the IRS to disconnecting their electric or other utility service.

These incidents are on the rise, and the targets are often seniors. In the “grandparent” scam, criminals search phone books for common names for older people, such as Ethel or Dolores, although sometimes they call numbers at random. The scammer pretends to be the victim’s grandchild in urgent need of money due to trouble like an arrest or car accident. (Social media can be a treasure trove of personal information for scammers, including the names of family members.)

The “debt collector” scam may involve a caller posing as an employee of your electric cooperative. The scammer may use threatening language in order to frighten you into revealing credit card or bank account information. Don’t do it!

These scammers also target business owners, who are afraid to risk having their electricity disconnected during busy business hours.

Your electric cooperative will never resort to threatening phone calls to pressure you into paying an electric bill. So, you know the caller is a scammer if he says your electric service will be cut off—usually within an hour—if you don’t pay immediately.

The scammer may instruct you to buy a prepaid card and call him back to make the “bill payment.” Giving the scammer the prepaid card’s number allows him instant access to the card’s funds.

Electric cooperatives don’t operate that way.

And don’t be fooled by the name displayed on your caller ID; those can be faked too.

If someone calls you to demand immediate payment of your electric bill, gather as much information as you can from the caller, end the call and report it to local law enforcement authorities. The Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office asks that you contact them at 601-359-4230 or 1-800-281-4418.

If you have any doubts about your electric bill, call or visit your electric cooperative. An employee will be glad to assist (and reassure) you.

If someone comes to your home claiming to be an electric cooperative employee that needs to collect money or inspect parts of your property, do not let the individual into your home.

Call your electric cooperative to find out whether they are, in fact, an employee. If they are not, call local authorities for assistance.

The variety of scams out there seems to be limited only by con artists’ imaginations. These are a few more to watch out for:

• Government agencies like the IRS will never call to inform you that you have unpaid taxes or other liens against you. You will always receive this type of information in the mail. If someone calls claiming to be the IRS, hang up immediately.

• If you receive an email from an unknown sender, an email riddled with spelling errors and typos, or an email threatening action unless a sum of money is paid, do not click any links provided within the email, and do not reply to the email. Delete the email.

• If someone calls claiming to have discovered a virus or malware on your computer, hang up. They may claim to be a computer technician with Microsoft or other well-known company. But they’re trying to trick you into giving them remote access to your computer, or using a number of other ways to get your money.

According to Consumer Reports, one of the best ways to thwart scammers is for the victims to share stories of their experience and thus warn others.

Awareness is the key to avoid falling victim to a scam.

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