BAY VILLAGE-- FirstEnergy Corp. utilities has issued a warning to customers about “a scam involving a telephone caller posing as an electric utility company employee threatening to shut off power unless an immediate payment is made using a pre-paid debit card such as a Green Dot card.”
A business in Bay Village fell for the scam last week and residential customers are also being targeted.
According to Bay Village Police Detective Lt. Mark Spaetzel, owners of China House restaurant on Wolf Rd. received a call from a person claiming to be a FirstEnergy worker.
They told the woman that her bill was late and if she didn’t pay it immediately the power would be turned off.
“So of course she’s panicking thinking her business is going to be shut down,” said Lt. Spaetzel, “Interestingly, this was the first month she used the online payment system to make her payment, so she’s thinking maybe the payment didn’t go through.”
The woman was advised to get a pre-paid Green Dot credit card and call back, which she did, forwarding over $500 to the man.
She said the entire call sounded legitimate.
“There is huge business out there for fraud. There’s so much of it, they’re making it look realistic and people are just falling for these things,” said Lt. Spaetzel.
The next day, the woman called FirstEnergy to confirm the payment was accepted and learned that she had been scammed.
And she is not alone. FirstEnergy says there are perhaps a dozen other victims that they know of already, and other utility companies are reporting the same type of fraud happening to them.
And there could be additional victims out there. Lt. Spaetzel says, often people are too embarrassed to report the scam.
But he says it’s important to call police and the utility company so that reports can be filed and cross referenced in an attempt to catch the scammer.
FirstEnergy has numerous bill payment options, including:
eBill Electronic Billing – customers can receive their bill and make payments electronically.
Pay with a credit card.
Equal Payment Plan (in Ohio, Pa, N.J. and N.Y.) – uniform bill payments can be made to avoid seasonal fluctuation of payment amounts.
Average Payment Plan (in W.Va and Md.) – for residential customers who wish to level out their bill payments.
Pay by phone using FirstEnergy's automated phone system.
Pay in Person – customers may make payments, for a nominal fee per transaction, at any authorized payment agent location. Fees may vary by individual location.
Pay by Mail – customers may choose to receive their bill in the mail and make a payment the same way.
Customers can sign up for these FirstEnergy payment options online at www.firstenergycorp.com.
However, they say they will never call a customer and ask them to pay with a pre-paid card.
“Go to the official site, get an official number and make a call and confirm before you do anything,” said Lt. Spaetzel.
The China House victim learned the truth behind her situation when she called FirstEnergy the next day. Police say she was clearly upset.
“Definitely something that is bothersome,” said Mike Judge, Manager at Arthur’s Shoe Tree next to the China House, “They’re great people.”
Luckily, they only lost a relatively small amount of cash but Lt. Spaetzel says people can lose their identities and so much more. “It wrecks their credit which is almost impossible to rebuild.”
He says people need to be smart and be cautious giving anyone personal or credit card information, because the scammers are out there and will keep continue looking for victims.
“If they make hundreds of calls a day and get 10%, they’re making a living,” said Lt. Spaetzel.