Spring has Sprung and So Have Power Scams
By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: April 28th, 2015
Phone scams are nothing new to BBQ Shack owner Jackson Whaley, having been on the receiving end of “seven, eight or nine” of them in the past few months.
So when someone called the restaurant on a recent Saturday afternoon identifying himself as working for Wiregrass Electric Co-op based in Hartford, Ala., Whaley was ready.
“He said he was going to shut off our electricity in 30 to 40 minutes because we hadn’t paid our bill. It was so fake,” said Whaley, who knew his restaurant, a 12-year co-op member, was not in a shut-off period. “The co-op is right across the street. We’re neighbors.”
So Whaley called the scammers’ bluff. While they were on one line, Whaley contacted Wiregrass EC on another phone. The scammer “heard me talking to someone else and he hung up on me so I knew it had to be a scam.”
Whaley hasn’t been the only business owner in Alabama to match wits with scammers lately. At Baldwin EMC in Summerdale, at least one business owner was directed to pay by wire transfer instead of through the co-op.
In at least two other states, co-op members have reported similar phone calls: Scammers are demanding quick payment and threatening disconnection of service.
In Missouri, callers have falsely claimed “we’ve been bought out by a neighboring co-op and we are here to collect [your payment] or you’ll be delinquent,” said Tom Houston, general manager of Webster Electric Co-op in Marshfield.
Houston and officials from other co-ops assert that members facing shut-offs for nonpayment would not be informed in a single phone call. “You would have had many written warnings. We do not call ahead of any disconnections,” said Houston.
No members of Webster EC or Wiregrass EC have lost money and co-ops have confronted this latest wave of phone calls as they have in years past—with press releases in traditional and digital outlets. “The best thing to do is hang up and call the co-op’s member services department,” said Whitney Bryant, communications specialist at South Plains EC in Lubbock, Texas.
Bryant and her manager, Lynn Simmons, said the phony calls come in bursts. “I don’t think there is ever a pattern. They change as needed to keep people answering the phone and giving them money,” said Simmons, who added the best protection is to stay vigilant.