Tuesday, October 15, 2013
At the urging of South Carolina’s electric cooperatives, state Attorney General Alan Wilson has asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate a sophisticated phone scam that is defrauding utility consumers across the state.
The scheme begins with a phone call by someone pretending to be an electric cooperative employee. The caller warns the consumer that utility service to their home or business will be disconnected unless they receive immediate payment. Scammers then direct consumers to purchase a pre-paid debit card (available at many convenience stores and pharmacies) and to call a toll-free number to deliver the serial code listed on the card. Once armed with this information, scammers have effectively stolen the money used to obtain the card.
“It’s imperative that we prevent these thieves from taking advantage of our consumer-members,” said Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “These are committed criminals who are preying upon some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Initial complaints suggested scam operators were systematically targeting the state’s Hispanic communities. In recent weeks, the illegal scheme has broadened to include small business owners and restaurants.
“Due to the volume of complaints, I have asked SLED to open a formal investigation,” said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. “I believe this is a prudent step to help protect unsuspecting consumers.”
“It’s vitally important cooperative members know that we will never call them and ask them to share personal information over the phone,” said Tom Upshaw, president and CEO of Palmetto Electric Cooperative in Ridgeland. “In addition, notice is sent to our members before we disconnect services. If you receive one of these suspicious phone calls, you should hang up and contact your local law enforcement.”
•Your electric cooperative will not call or email you asking you to share your account number or password. Do not share this information with anyone.
•Do not assume you can trust caller ID to let you know where the caller is located. Scammers are using new technology that disguises their actual location.
•Your electric cooperative will not contact you by phone to discuss the termination of service. If you receive a phone call saying your electricity is being disconnected, hang up and call law enforcement immediately.
The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Inc. is the state association of independent, member-owned electric cooperatives. More than 1.5 million South Carolinians in all 46 counties use power provided by electric cooperatives. Together, the co-ops operate the state’s largest electric power system with more than 70,000 miles of power lines across 70 percent of the state. More information is available at www.ecsc.org.