Don't fall for utility bill scams!
NOVEC warns all consumers to be alert to anyone who calls them, claims to represent NOVEC, and directs them to pay bills with a specific prepaid debit card. The Co-op says the caller is a scammer.
In the last few years NOVEC has received a number of reports of phone-scam attempts. So have other utilities and businesses throughout the nation. Several reports to NOVEC have come from people who live in Maryland and West Virginia-far from NOVEC's service territory.
In one instance, a NOVEC employee who lives outside of the Co-op's territory received an automated call. Caller ID indicated that the call was from her electricity provider. The message said her bill was overdue and instructed her to purchase a prepaid debt card, then call back and provide the number on the card.
"I knew it was a scammer," the employee said, "because my payments are electronically transferred from my bank automatically each month. And I know criminals are trying to con people by making them afraid that their power will be cut off if they don't follow instructions and pay right away." She reported the scam attempt to her utility company.
In another attempt, a NOVEC customer said a caller who claimed to be from the Co-op told the customer to pay $950 right away to avoid a service interruption. The caller told the customer to put the money on a pre-paid debit card.
"NOVEC does not do business this way," says Tong Thomas, customer care manager. "We're advising Co-op members to call customer service at 703-335-0500 or 1-888-335-0500 to verify their account information after receiving any suspicious call or text message, even if the number displayed on their phones is NOVEC's. We're also advising them to contact the police or report the incident to a consumer affairs bureau."
Ringel says, "NOVEC sometimes places automated courtesy phone calls to remind customers that their accounts are past due, but the messages never ask for Social Security, credit card, debit card, or bank account numbers, or give a dollar amount that a customer must pay. Nor do the messages tell customers what payment method to use. Furthermore, the calls are made by an interactive telephone system and not by a NOVEC employee. So the customer is never speaking with a person."
The Virginia Attorney General's office has warned Virginians to be alert to scam phone calls that tell a person to purchase a Green Dot Visa card, MoneyPak, or other pre-paid debit card and make a payment over the phone. The AG's office noted that scammers are apparently targeting Spanish-speaking and elderly people in particular, and businesses. Furthermore, some scammers are "spoofing" utility companies' phone numbers so that customers who have Caller ID will see the name of their utility provider on their phones.
Protect yourself and your family
- Always attempt to verify the identity of a caller who claims to represent a business. Do not provide money or personal information to an unsolicited caller whose identity cannot be verified.
- Do not make a payment by purchasing a Green Dot card or other means when told to do so.
- If using MoneyPak, never give your MoneyPak number or receipt information to someone you don't know. Use MoneyPak only to reload prepaid cards or accounts you control.
- Always take time making a decision. Legitimate companies don't pressure customers to make snap decisions.
- If you received a suspicious call and made a payment to the scammer, report it to the local police, or to state or federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.