Consumer warning: Utility scams getting worse, scammers more aggressive

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Tess Rafols

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 8:02 AM

Updated Monday, Apr 7 at 10:21 AM

PHOENIX -- Scams in which supposed utility company employees threaten to turn off power unless they get an immediate payment are relatively common, but the Arizona Attorney General's Office says the people behind those scams are getting more aggressive.

The scammers claim to be from the "disconnect department" of Salt River Project (SRP), Arizona Public Service (APS) or Tucson Electric Power (TEP), according to a news release from Attorney General Tom Horne's office.

The criminals are hitting both individual consumers and businesses. When they approach the businesses, they do so during busy times, according to the AG's office.

There are two versions of the scam. One that starts with a phone call from a burner cell phone that's difficult to track. The other involves an actual visit to a target's home or business.

Either way, the scammers claim to be with SRP, APS or TEP. They convince their targets that shut-off is in the works and will be made within hours unless a payment is immediately made via prepaid card, credit card or PayPal.

"He was real persistent," said Phil Butler, a business owner who was targeted by the scammers.

Butler said the man who called him claimed to be from APS, which is not his utility provider, and was quick to answer his questions. He said the person on the other end of the line was aggressive in demanding account and credit-card information.

Suspicious, Butler hung up and called his utility company, SRP, and confirmed that the call was fraudulent.

Utility companies want their customers to know that they do not employ these scare tactics and they never ask for payment over the phone.

"If you get someone that's aggressive over the phone, it's pretty much going to be a scam." SRP spokeswoman Renee Castillo said. "We don’t treat our customers like that."

"[Scammers] take money out of hard-working people's pockets," Butler said. "They just sit there on their phones or on their computers doing this while us working folk pay for it."

If you have a payment that is past-due, the utility company will send out a reminder bill. There also are multiple notices sent before a disconnect. In addition, the utility companies use automated calls that give you the option to talk with the company.

"We never ask for any information over the phone, nor would we ask a customer to go purchase a prepaid credit card or use PayPal or something like that to pay us," Castillo said.

This kind scam is not unique to Arizona.

"It started out kind of slow in Arizona," Castillo explained. "It's a nationwide problem. We're seeing business customers and residential customers being victimized. … It's getting worse."

The Attorney General's Office shared tips to help people protect themselves from scammers.

For SRP customers:

For APS customers:

  • Call Residential Customer Care at 602-371-7171 (Phoenix-metro area) or 800-253-9405 (other areas), or Business Customer Care at 602-371-6767 (Phoenix-metro area) or 800-253-9407 (other areas) to receive accurate information about an APS account.
  • Customers can also view their APS account information online.

For TEP customers:

  • Call Customer Care at 520-623-7711 to receive accurate information about your residential or commercial TEP account.
  • Customers can also view their TEP account information online.

For all consumers:

Never give your credit or debit card numbers or other personal information to any caller or visitor without knowing their true identity.

Report possible scams to the Arizona Attorney General's Office by filing a consumer complaint at www.azag.gov/complaints/consumer; by phone at 602-542-5763 (Phoenix), 520-628-6504 (Tucson), or toll-free outside metro Phoenix, 800-352-8431, or by email at consumerinfo@azag.gov.

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