COLUMBIA South Carolina authorities have issued a warning this week to the state’s residents of a sophisticated phone scam that is defrauding utility customers.
The S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said scammers initially appeared to be targeting Latino residents but recently have expanded the operation to small business owners and restaurants.
“Due to the volume of complaints, I have asked SLED to open a formal investigation,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “I believe this is a prudent step to help protect unsuspecting consumers.”
Authorities say the scam begins with a phone call to residents from someone who claims to be an employee of an electric cooperative. The caller says the resident’s utility service will be disconnected unless immediate payment is received.
Scammers then direct victims to buy a pre-paid debit card, which is available at many convenience stores and pharmacies, then call a toll-free number to deliver the serial code listed on the card.
With that information, South Carolina officials say, the scammers effectively have stolen the money available on the card.
“It’s imperative that we prevent these thieves from taking advantage of our consumer-members,” said Mike Couick, president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “These are committed criminals who are preying on some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Officials said utility companies will not ask customers to share account numbers of passwords. And, they add, customers should not trust caller-ID to know where the caller is located. Scammers are using new technology that allows them to disguise their actual location, authorities say.
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