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Kentucky co-ops join forces to fight utility fraud

The phone calls are often urgent. Pay a past due balance on your electric bill, now, before your electricity is disconnected. For some local residents and small business owners, the calls may come during peak hours and rush times when people are more likely to be distracted. In a panic, many provide credit card information to get the situation resolved quickly.

It’s these kinds of tactics, typically employed by scammers, that Kentucky’s electric co-ops say could cost their members and customers thousands of dollars a year.

“Our members are very important to us,” said Dennis Cannon, President and CEO of Jackson Purchase Energy Corporation.

“We want to do everything in our power to make sure that they are not taken advantage of by someone pretending to be their local electric cooperative.”

Jackson Purchase Energy Corporation is joining with other local electric providers Paducah Power Systems and West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative to observe Utility Scam Awareness Day on November 15, a day that was designated by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016.

“Our goal is to protect our members from falling victim to payment scams and we believe awareness is the key,” said David Smart, West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative President and CEO.

“We urge everyone to be prepared, and recommend they hang up and call their utility if they have any concerns.”

According to Paducah Power System General Manager, Dave Carroll, utility scams cycle through western Kentucky on a regular basis.

“We get calls about this from customers every few weeks, and scammers often use technology to make our phone number appear on the Call ID screen when contacting potential victims,” he said.

“When in doubt, we encourage our members to hang up and call us back to ensure that they are actually talking to a representative of Owen Electric,” said Whitney Duvall, Manager of Communications and Advertising at Owen. “It’s also a good idea to talk with elderly family members or neighbors and to warn those who may not be proficient in the English language—they are particularly vulnerable to scammers.”

The utilities say that most scams can be thwarted using the following tips:

  • Generally, if utilities call customers concerning payment for a past due balance, payment is taken at the utility office or on the utility’s website. If you receive a call from someone reporting to be from your utility and demanding immediate payment, do not give out your personal or banking information. Simply hang up and call your electric provider directly to check the status of your account
  • When making online payments to your electric provider, always double-check to ensure that you are on the correct website before submitting credit card information.
  • If you see someone on your property or someone knocks on your door claiming to be from your electric provider, ask them to wait while you call the company directly to verify their intent.
  • Don’t always trust your caller ID. With the rise in spoofing technology, never  assume that someone calling from a number that looks like your electric  provider is legitimate.
  • Utilities will not ask customers to use unusual payment methods. Never wire money or put money onto a prepaid card of any kind, even if those are the  directions of the representative calling.
  • Tell your family and friends about scammers’ tactics that you’ve heard about and how to avoid them. Sharing information is the best way to ensure that no one is taken advantage of by a scam.
  • Report a suspicious call or visit immediately to your local authorities and to your local electric provider.

 

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