Conmen threaten to shut off electricity

Police, Utility Co. Warn Of Scammers




With temperatures soaring and air conditioners churning, the last thing homeowners want is to get on the wrong side of PSEG.

The threat of having the power shut off is exactly what scammers are using to con homeowners out of their hard-earned money. PSEG Long Island, the region’s electricity provider, warned this week that scammers have used several related ploys to fool homeowners.

“The most common scam, phone scamming, has become more frequent and more sophisticated. Customers have reported phone calls that seem legitimate because the caller ID actually reads ‘PSEG Long Island,’” the utility company warns. Once the caller gets the attention of the homeowner, he or she “demands payment for past-due bills.” Often scammers will threaten to disconnect service if payment is not made immediate.

The scammers then demand money through a pre-paid gift cards (e.g. Green Dot Money Pak, Vanilla Reload Card) or bitcoin. If the victim takes the bait, the scammer provides a telephone number where a fake representative requests additional information that completes the fraudulent transaction.

Nearly 4000 of such calls have been reported to PSEG so far this year, compared with 4088 in all of 2018, an increase of 25 percent. They became more frequent as the hot weather intensified.

PSEG said its campaign to warn users has been somewhat effective; fewer people are falling for the scam, although one in every 20 customers who engaged the scammers on the phone ended up getting burnt.

“Signs that a call may not be legitimate include a request for a specific payment type or a sense of urgency on the part of the caller,” said Rick Walden, vice president of customer operations at PSEG. “Our representatives will never demand payment and, though we offer a variety of payment options, they do not include pre-paid debit cards or bitcoin.”

County officials warn the electric company scam is one of many conmen use. In addition to electric company representatives, scammers often pretend to be credit card representatives telling those who answer the phone that credit card payments are in arrears. Callers then try to coerce the individual to make a payment over the phone. Senior citizens and immigrants are particularly vulnerable.

Police say residents have been receiving phone messages from out-of-state area codes, telling them to call back and claiming they are the Internal Revenue Service. The recorded message sounds official and states that the victim owes back taxes.

According to the IRS, if there is an issue with federal taxes, you’ll first receive a letter or notice in the mail.

CBS News reported many cases where senior citizens were contacted and told their grandchildren were in trouble with the law. One recent account involved a woman being told grandson needed $7000 cash immediately to be bailed out of jail. In this case, the suspect was apprehended.

“The 1st Precinct detectives, thinking outside the box, dressed up as a senior person, put a walker in their hands, and met at the location,” according to a county police spokesman. Besides phone scammers, PSEG also cautions customers beware of emails that appear to be bills from the utility. These emails request personal information that could lead to identity theft.

PSEG does not ask customers to provide personal information online without first logging into the “My Account” section of www.psegliny.com. Never provide any personal information requested by email, do not download any attachments, and do not click any links in the email.

Scammers may also come to your home. PSEG has received reports of door-to-door solicitors from solar companies and energy service companies impersonating a utility company employee or approved vendors. Reports have also been received of subjects impersonating employees to gain entry to homes and steal items.

PSEG employees will always wear an PSEG ID badge and PSEG-branded clothing. If the identity of a visitor claiming to be from the company is suspicious, do not give access. Call 1-800-490-0025 to determine if PSEG employees are in the area. If a customer is unable to verify that, a homeowner should not allow the person entry and call 911.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com