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Scammers threaten to turn off electricity

Tuesday - 6/18/2013, 9:26am  ET

WASHINGTON - Beware. There's an old scam circulating with a new twist that could separate you from your money.

Customers of several utilities in Virginia have been getting phone calls telling them they are late on their bills and their service will be shut off unless they pay up. They also are told to pay by using a pre-paid debit card.

"Some of them are also trying to get an additional aura of legitimacy by spoofing the utility's phone number so that the caller ID actually shows up as if the person's receiving a phone call from the utility company," says Caroline Gibson, spokeswoman for the Virginia attorney general's office.

She says legitimate late payments are not handled that way by the utilities. So if you get such a call hang up.

The scammers have been particularly targeting senior citizens, people whose native language is Spanish and some businesses. So far they have claimed to be from Dominion Power, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. But Gibson says the scam could spread statewide.

Here are some tips from the attorney general on how to handle such calls:

  • Always attempt to verify the identity of any individual who claims to represent a business. Do not provide money or personal information to an unsolicited caller whose identity you are not able to verify.
  • Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • If you receive such call, do not make a payment by purchasing a pre-paid debit card or other means. Immediately contact your utility's local office to report the call and to verify your account status.
  • If you think you paid a scammer, report that information to local police. You may report this information to state or federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

And, you should check your last utility bill.

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