ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Utility companies in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley and Kodiak are reporting imposter scams that see people threaten to turn off a customer's power unless they receive payment. This type of scan has seen a 100% rise in the last couple of years across the country.
Municipal Light and Power (ML&P) took to social media Wednesday to offer advice to their customers: “Customers receiving a phone call or email threatening power shut-off unless their credit card information is provided should not engage with the scammer.”
Chugach Electric reported a similar scam occurring early September and the Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) posted about the scam in mid-August.
Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager with the Better Business Bureau Northwest, says they become aware of this type of utility impersonation scam place every couple of months.
“Other scammer have instructed customers to purchase money packs at local retail centers, or to call toll-free numbers with voice recording system similar to ML&P’s Integrated Voice Recognition system,” said the press release from ML&P.
Channel 2, received information about a person claiming ML&P and Chugach Electric had merged and that payment was demanded from the new conglomerate. A toll-free number went straight to voicemail.
Tabler says the scammers often demand payment be made by iTunes gift cards. The scam victim will be asked to go and buy a card and read the identification number off the back of the card, giving the scammer the value of the card.
Kodiak Police Department released a warning Friday about a similar scam from Kodiak Electric Association. “The member is instructed to go to Safeway to buy a MoneyGram, threatening to disconnect power if this was not done,” said the Kodiak Police Department.
Scammers typically look for victims who are vulnerable, such as seniors. Tabler says they are known to scour through obituaries and look for surviving partners who may not be so savvy with money.
However, it is not just senior citizens who are targets, Tabler says millennials self-report being three times more susceptible to scams than older people. Although less likely to be scanned, seniors will give on average double the amount to scammers than younger people.
Grace Salazar, Chief Consumer Protection & Information Office at the Regulatory Commission of Alaska says this type of scam has seen a 109% rise across the country between June 2015 and January 31, 2017.
In a presentation to the “consumer forum for Alaskans,” Salazar said that Duke Energy in North Carolina reported total customer losses to scams at over $800,000 and one single customer loss at nearly $14,000.
Closer to home, Salazar says a person posing as an ENSTAR employee visited a homeowner. The “scammer stated that he went to her daughter’s house but the daughter was not home and heating will be disconnected if bill is not paid immediately”
Another homeowner found an orange ENSTAR door tag delinquent notice when ENSTAR only uses blue delinquent notices.
More recently, MEA reports hearing about a fraudulent check scam from members. The scam says that the person has been selected to be a “secret store evaluator,” when no such position exists.
Advice to stay safe from utility scams
1. Never share your personal information, including birthday, social security number or credit card and bank account information.
2. Contact your utility company and establish a PIN number or Password.
3. Do not accept offers from anyone, including those claiming to be utility employees, to pay your bill or provide any other service for a fee.
4. Do not assume the name and number on your caller ID are legitimate (caller IDs can be spoofed).
5. If you get a scam call, hang up, contact your utility company, make a police report.