Scammers targeting utilities customers, asking for immediate credit card payment

Published: Monday, March 4 2013 2:55 p.m. MST

Rocky Mountain Power and Questar Gas are warning their customers of a phone scam where crooks are posing as customer service agents and demanding immediate payment over the phone.

Mike Radice, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utility companies, like Rocky Mountain Power and Questar, are warning customers of a scam that asks them for immediate payment over the phone.

Scammers are posing as customer service agents telling customers they are at risk of having their service disconnected if they don’t provide personal information, such as a credit card number or a prepaid credit card number right away.

"These crooks are posing as customer service agents of utilities and calling and demanding payment or saying they will shut off your power if you don't pay up," said Jeff Hymas from Rocky Mountain Power.

The scammers have a variety of tactics to get credit card information. They may require a credit card number immediately over the phone, they may tell a customer to call a special number with the payment information, or they may tell the customer to go to a store to purchase a prepaid card and call them back with the code.

Those phones calls are happening more often. Last year, Rocky Mountain Power had 180 customers who reported someone tried to scam them in this way. Already this year, 38 customers have reported it, with six customers falling for it. Fraudulent calls have been made to the homes and businesses of Rocky Mountain Power customers. 

"We don't operate that way. We don't demand immediate payment for services like that," Hymas said.

The calls are similar to those the company warned its Spanish-speaking customers about last summer.

It's not just power customers. Questar Gas said this is something it’s hearing about nationwide.

"Anytime someone calls on the phone and requests a credit card number or a debit card number, or (says), ‘Just tell us your check number and we can make the payment over the phone,' it’s very simple: don’t believe it and don’t buy into it,” said Darren Shepherd from Questar Gas.

Shepherd said there are times when Questar might call a customer with a delinquent account, but the representative will provide account numbers and other information, so the customer knows it’s a legitimate call.

If a customer is contacted by phone and has any concerns about the validity of the call, it is always appropriate to let the caller know they prefer to call them back through the toll-free number. Rocky Mountain Power can be reached any time, toll free at 1-888-221-7070, and Questar Gas can be reached any time, toll free at 1-800-323-5517.

If the customer thinks the call is a scam, they are urged to call police.

"Notice the number that comes up on your caller ID, or what number they tell you to call back at,” Hymas said. “Those little clues may help to be able to pinpoint the perpetrators."

So far, the police have not been able to identify the scammers.

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

Twitter: ksl_alexcabrero

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