Photo by Walter Allread
Felipa Flores wasn’t expecting a call about her electric bill when the phone rang at 9 a.m. on a recent morning.
Flores doesn’t speak much English, but the man on the other end of phone spoke fluent Spanish. He identified himself as “Ivan” and claimed to be a representative of Palmetto Electric Cooperative. In a very professional-sounding manner, Ivan explained that Flores was $100 past due on her electric bill and if she did not pay by 2 p.m., her service would be disconnected.
Alarmed, Flores said she would go to the co-op’s Hilton Head office at once to pay the bill, but instead, Ivan directed her to go to a CVS pharmacy, load $100 onto a pre-paid debit card and then call him back with the debit card number.
Flores followed his instructions. Ivan thanked her for her prompt payment and even gave her a phony confirmation number.
Thinking the matter had been resolved, Flores was surprised when she received her next power bill and saw no record of the payment. When she contacted the co-op office and spoke with Livier “Livy” Amador, a bilingual member service representative, Flores learned she had been the victim of a sophisticated telephone scam targeting South Carolina utility consumers.
Since then, the co-op has heard from approximately 100 other members who have been targeted by the scam. In some cases, the con artists have known details such as the exact amount due on a bill, Amador says.
“I deal with this issue all the time,” she says. “It’s very sophisticated. We don’t know how they are getting this information, but we’re trying to figure it out and put a stop to it.”
Related: Hanging up on scammers
Tips for beating the scam
- Your electric cooperative will not contact you by phone to discuss the termination of service. If you receive a phone call saying your electricity is being disconnected, hang up and call law enforcement immediately.
- Do not assume you can trust caller ID to let you know where the caller is located. Scammers are using new technology that disguises their actual location.
- Your electric cooperative will not call or email you asking to share your account number or password. Do not share this information with anyone.