The co-owner of a new restaurant in Cordova momentarily panicked. Someone claiming to be from Memphis Light, Gas and Water threatened to turn off his electricity if he didn’t pay his utility bill within 30 minutes.
“It was scary,” said Giampaolo Ongaro, co-owner of the new Crazy Italians Restaurant in Cordova. “Once they knew I wasn’t going to fall for their trap, they hung up.”
MLGW and the Memphis Police Department are urging everyone not to fall for the scam.
It’s a scam that utility companies across the U.S. are battling. The culprits often use phone “spoofing” technology, which makes your caller ID display what appears to be MLGW’s number.
It’s also possible that the scammers may know personal information. They knew exactly how much Ongaro’s bill was for November. In a slightly different scheme, a woman recently bought a pre-paid card for $458 on the pretext the caller was going to help her pay her utilities at a discount.
MLGW never calls residential or commercial customers threatening to cut off utilities or offers discounts unless they receive an immediate payment.
Scammers have targeted mostly small businesses or customers whose second language is English. The call is often from either a toll-free number or from phones that are untraceable.
The caller directs the business owner to go to a certain location like a Dollar General or Ace Cash Express and get a pre-paid or reloadable debit card such as Express Pay or Green Dot MoneyPak.
After a card is purchased, the victim gets a second “spoofed” call which appears to be from MLGW’s call center. The victim is instructed to provide them with the 14-digit serial number from the card. Once they get the card’s information, the amount can be pulled remotely and anonymously from anywhere in the world.
Nationally, the Better Business Bureau reported 73 separate cases of utility imposter scams in North America for 2015. No one is immune. Scammers targeted customers from rural electric co-operatives, publically and privately-held companies. In November, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Consumer Affairs Division alerted Middle Tennessee customers of the scam. Thieves were claiming to be with Nashville Electric Service.
If you get such a call, MLGW and the Memphis Police urge you to do the following:
- Hang up the phone.
- Never give out personal financial information over the phone.
- Call the MLGW Customer Care Center at 901-544-6549 if you have any concerns.
- Report it to your local police station if you have been scammed.
- Go to any of the five MLGW community business offices and speak with a credit counselor if you have problems paying your utility bill.