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Small businesses targeted by electric bill scam

Posted at 9:52 AM, May 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-13 09:52:38-04

More and more people are answering the phone to hear a threatening call from the gas and electric company.  They say you'll be cut off if you don't pay your bill immediately.

It's a scam.

Wendy Snider is a hard working business owner, who runs a pub called The Shamrock.  The other day, she received a frightening call about an overdue electric bill.

"The exact threat was that if I don't go pay this in 15 to 20 minutes, my electric is going to be shut off," she said. She went into a panic.

The caller told her she could keep her power on if she bought some prepaid money cards and then transferred $1,000 to him.

"I was like, you know, 'Oh my God, I can't live without electric!'"

She almost paid the money until a co-worker told her he had heard something on the news about this possibly being a scam.

It is.

Last fall, a successful businesswoman was also targeted by these scammers and shared her story.  The phone rings all day long at the Snooty Fox, a popular consignment shop. But owner Donna Speigel says this time it was different. Instead of a customer calling about consigning some clothing or furniture, it was someone saying he was with the power company. "He said our most recent bill had been paid wrong, and if it wasn't paid immediately, with the correct amount, our electric would be turned off between 12 and 12:15. p.m. that day," Speigel explained.

She says her employees panicked, worried a truck was on the way to shut off their power, essentially closing their business

"And you are thinking, the electric turned off for one of our stores, that's a little scary," Speigel said.

But the caller offered a solution: If they paid the bill immediately,  their electric would be left on.

Confused and suspicious, Speigel says they made some calls.

Good thing.

"Peggy (the store manager) called CVS and was told this is a scam," Speigel said. When the scammer called a second time, she told him she was onto him, and he hung up.

Energy companies across the country are warning about this scam that is targeting small businesses everywhere.  They say utility providers will never call you threatening an immediate disconnection.

Worried that their company's utilities are about to be turned off, many front desk employees are rushing out and buying the pre-paid debit cards, then giving the caller the number to the card.  What they don't realize is that they are giving $500 or more to a foreign scammer.

Speigel sees how a worried front desk person could easily fall for it. "I can see my mother falling for this, and just paying it!  And it's disturbing," she said.

If you are behind on your utility payments, you will receive several notices in the mail and on your door before you are disconnected.

So hang up on threatening callers so you don't waste your money.