The nation’s electric cooperatives are reporting a rise in swindlers who are using energy-related ploys to get into the bank accounts of co-op members.
Co-ops are warning members about a rise in bill payment fraud scams.
Fake home energy audits and scams related to Green Dot MoneyPak prepaid credit cards are becoming more common, according to officials at co-ops across the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions.
One of the most recent cases involved a manager of a restaurant, who received a telephone call during his lunch crush from an alleged representative of his local electric cooperative.
“The person said that I have to make a $500 payment to cancel the order to shut the power off, and I said, ‘OK. What do I have to do?’”
After some negotiation, the unidentified collector agreed to accept $300 immediately and $200 the following week, if the manager immediately obtained a prepaid credit card to cover the initial payment.
He later reconsidered the transaction and contacted his co-op, which told him that he had been the target of a scam.
Variations on the scam include calls claiming expiration of automatic bank drafts. Scammers seek personal financial information, which presumably could enable a thief to raid bank accounts.
Other frauds include “Home Walk-Through” scam calls. A member is told they can save money on their utility bills if they schedule a walk-through energy audit of the home. Police say thieves often use this technique to get a layout of a home for a future burglary. Then there’s the “Miami Vice” scam. Members receive calls originating in Miami telling them they have won $2,500 but need to pay $199 in processing fees to receive their prize.
These scammers will tell you that you are months behind on your utility bills and must pay at once. If these scammers call you, do not engage them. Hang up immediately. Such schemes become more common during periods when increased energy use from heating or cooling can offer higher payoffs. Criminals are using easily accessible prepaid debit cards to take victims’ money and avoid being traced. This form of payment is just like giving cash—once you hand it over it’s gone.”
Derrill Holly ECT Staff Writer June 2013