Calls threatening power shutoff could be a ripoff

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)

A sophisticated phone scam seems to be making its rounds, nationwide–con artists posing as the power company, demanding immediate payment–and their target seems to be small businesses.

Mark Williamson suspects the Bowl-Inn Bowling Center on Bailey Avenue was one of those targets. Williamson runs a tight ship, so when he responded to a robocall that showed up on his Caller ID as National Grid, he took it seriously.

Williamson called back and said it sounded like the real thing, “The exact same recording that National Grid uses, the prompts, the voices, everything.”

Mark got through the electronic prompts to a person who told Williamson he was short on his last two utility payments. But Mark said he he was picking up clues the call was not on the up-and-up, and that the Caller ID had been spoofed.

The Bowling-Inn owner knew he had paid the bill recently, and he was suspicious of the representative referring to the electricity account, using his name.

“The account is in the business’s name, not my personal name. So that kind of tipped me off that they did not have their information quite right. They had all the right information, but not in the right places.”

Mark suspects he was targeted because he is a small business owner, and in Indiana, Suzanne Lake, owner of Rudy’s Automotive was another small business owner getting a high pressure robocall.

The call showed up as Indianapolis Power and Light on Lake’s Caller ID. IPL is the electric utility serving Indiana’s state capital, and Lake was suspicious right away.

“Anytime somebody calls you at random and wants money from you and says that they are representing a utility company, thank them, hang up, and then call your utility company.”

Mark Williamson also verified his robocall was a scam. He called National Grid and confirmed his account was up to date, then he called the scammers back–even asked for a “supervisor”–and had a little fun at their expense.

“At the very end I said, oh I know you are a fraud, I have already reported you to the police and all the local news stations. Then he said something that was not very kind to me and hung on me.”

A spokesman for National Grid also advised customers, if they are a target of a high pressure call, hang up, and call a number you know to be the electric company.

National Grid’s number to report suspicious calls is 1-800-642-4272. It is the same number if you have been scammed.

A consortium of 130 public utility companies in the United States and Canada, Utilities United Against Scams, has set up a website to help consumers avoid phone, Internet, and mail fraud.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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