Utility scams are happening locally, don’t be a victim

Phishing is becoming prevalent over the telephone. Callers will identify themselves as a collector for student loans, credit cards, the Internal Revenue Service and utility companies, asking for personal information and financial information to “settle” accounts.  Recently, a local business owner was contacted by someone posing as a collector from AEP. The caller stated the person owed payment and that his electricity was going to be “cut off” within 45 minutes, if he did not make immediate payment. Knowing this was a scam, the business owner contacted AEP customer service with the number from which he was contacted.

Fred Hernandez, AEP community affairs, said that AEP does not work in that manner.

“It’s a scam that’s been going around for several years.” Hernandez said. “We don’t disconnect customers in that way and we don’t take payment that way.”

Hernandez said that this type of phishing scam makes its way around the region every couple of years. He said that when these calls are received, they should be handled accordingly.

“Don’t pay the bill. Call your own rep from your own utility provider.” he said. “Call the number on your bill.”

Hernandez said that often, when the number is called back, the call is disconnected.

The San Angelo Police Department may be contacted as well, so they have a record of the calls. There are helpful hints for the public regarding these types of scams on sanangelopolice.org.

Here are tips about telephone scams from the SAPD:

Telephone Scams

Phone and mail cons typically involve a large number of victims by making use of mass marketing techniques. They clone legitimate enterprises and tend to target the victims in the system until their money is exhausted.  The variety of telemarketing cons is endless. The most common, and therefore most dangerous, of these schemes are summarized here:

Warrant Scams – Telephone calls alleging fake arrest warrants.  The scammers may spin a range of stories about why an arrest warrant has been issued, including that you have failed to pay taxes. Scammers typically ask for money to be sent via wire transfer as it’s nearly impossible to recover money sent this way. They may also ask for people’s financial and other personal details to access their money and use this information to commit other scams.

Be on guard, if you receive a phone call from someone saying you have an arrest warrant and asking you to pay a fee, hang up and do not respond. If in doubt, don’t use the contact details provided – look up the government department or organisation yourself in the phone book or online and phone or email them.

IRS “Phishing” Scams – These involve calls from individuals claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Scammers who are posing as tax officials are threatening Texans with fines, arrest, and other penalties if they do not immediately pay a false claim of unpaid taxes.  Click here to view a full list of what to do if you receive a suspicious IRS-related communication of any kind.

Prize Solicitations – Victims are informed by postcard or phone that they have won one of three or four prizes as some sort of promotional offering. The caller will not specify the prize, but it will be represented as something of extraordinary value such as a car, cash, or jewelry. Victims are told that to collect their prize they have to send money for handling, taxes, shipping, and accounting fees. If any prize is eventually received, it is always worth less than the processing money.

Prize Recovery – This is a reload scheme in which victims are told that the prize they won in the past was never delivered because the firm that awarded it to them has gone out of business. The good news is that they did win a prize and this has been seized by the new company. It can now be delivered if the new firm is reimbursed for the shipping and handling costs incurred when the prize was transferred. No prize ever existed or will exist.

Sweepstakes and Contest Scams – ­Victims are enticed to enter a contest with the promise they can easily win a new car or other valuable prize. All they have to do is complete a puzzle or fill in blanks answering a few questions and send in a sum of money. If they answer correctly, they are told they will advance to a higher level. In reality there is no contest and no worthwhile prize. Victims are simply tricked into completing an endless series of puzzles; most of them require some sort of entry fee to advance to the next level. Victims can invest thousands of dollars per year in this manner. Investigate sweepstakes and contests carefully to make sure that it is legitimate and not a diversion to sway you into unknowingly signing on to a scam.

Tech Support Scams – Cybercriminals don’t just send fraudulent email messages and set up fake websites. They might also call you on the telephone and claim to be from a wellknown software company.  They might offer to help solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. Once they have access to your computer, they can trick you into installing malicious software that can capture data such as online banking usernames and passwords, request credit card information, or direct you to a fraudulent website to solicit other personal or financial information.  The majority of software companies NEVER make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or sofware fixes.

Charity and Affinity Scams – These usually involve calls from strangers asking for donations for causes that relate to the potential victim’s race, age, national origin or religion. Some may be legitimate, but all should be carefully investigated before contributing anything. If you are not sure, do not feel guilty about saying no.

Investments such as Land, Oil/Gas, and Business Opportunities – Prospective victims are contacted with all types of offers, all of them promising immediate returns and big profits for investments.

If you believe you have been conned or scammed out of money, call -325-657-4315 file a police report.  If you were not scammed out of money, report these scams to the Federal Trade Commission.