Local power companies warn of new rash of scammers

Matthew Lane • Updated Oct 8, 2015 at 12:48 PM

KINGSPORT – Appalachian Power and the Johnson City Power Board are warning customers about a new rash of scam artists who are using scare tactics to try and get cash from local businesses.

Both power providers issued scam alerts this week, briefly outlining what the scam artists are attempting to do and tips customers can use if a scam is suspected. Appalachian Power and the JCPD both say that while there are instances where the company will contact customers over the telephone, neither will ever demand payment in this manner.

“Utility company scams, unfortunately, are too common,” said Jeri Matheney, Appalachian Power spokesperson. “If customers receive suspicious, urgent, demanding phone calls from someone claiming to be with Appalachian Power or AEP, we suggest they hang up and contact us at the toll-free number on their bill or call local law enforcement.”

Tim Whaley, spokesman for the JCPB, said scammers tend to use intimidation and scare tactics in an attempt to coerce customers into providing credit card numbers and other payment information over the phone.

“It’s critically important for customers to know that JCPB will never demand credit card information over the phone,” Whaley said.

Appalachian Power, the JCPB and other electric utilities around the state continue to hear concerns from commercial customers and others receiving phone calls from scammers posing as local electrical utility bill collectors.

“These phone scams tend to run a week or two through multiple districts before moving onto other areas, then returning every few months,” Whaley said.

Appalachian Power reports the scam that was brought to its attention instructs customers to wire immediate payment or have their service disconnected. Victims are often directed to purchase prepaid debit cards, such as a Vanilla or Green Dot.

Two businesses in the Kingsport area were targeted, but did not fall for the scam. The JCPB reports it has received five customer complaints in the last few days about scammers.

Some tips consumers can use to avoid being the victim of a scam.

Confirm that you are speaking to a utility representative. If you have any concerns, tell the caller that you will independently check the phone number for the utility to verify the caller’s identity and information.

Be wary of anyone demanding immediate payment or payment in forms that are difficult to trace, such as Western Union, Vanilla or Green Dot cash cards.

Never give your credit card, debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or savings account numbers, or any other personal identification numbers to anyone who comes to your home, calls or sends an email requesting information.

Never allow anyone claiming to be a utility service person into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment and the person has proper identification. Lock the door and contact police if you become concerned about your safety.

If a customer should ever have any question about the identity of an Appalachian Power or JCPB representative, request the person's name, department, and phone number and then contact Appalachian Power at 1-800-956-4237 or the JCPB (423) 952-5272 to confirm the representative’s identity and the validity of their requests.