NORFOLK, Va. - Dominion Virginia Power is warning its customers to be on the lookout for utility scams.
The company reports that scammers contacted nearly 2,800 customers in 2015, demanding payments totaling more than $1.2 million.
Hundreds of customers fell victim, paying nearly $20,000 after being threatened with immediate disconnection of electricity by the scammers.
"While we are working in concert with law enforcement to identify, track and stop these scams, it's important for customers to recognize the red flags," said Marc Gaudette, director-Corporate Security, Safety & Health. "Unfortunately, the scammers frequently target the elderly, non-English-speaking communities and businesses during their busy times and use caller ID spoofing software so a customer thinks Dominion is calling."
Dominion says they would never threaten a customer, even if the account was past due. They also wouldn't insist on one specific form of payment.
For a list of authorized payment locations, click here.
Dominion is offering the following tips to customers:
- Ask questions and verify what you are hearing by checking your online account or hanging up and then calling us at 866-DOM-HELP. If an account is overdue, we provide multiple communications in writing and offers a payment plan before disconnection occurs.
- Remember that we do not require payment over the phone and never demand immediate payment of cash, PayPal, any prepaid debit card such as 'MoneyPak/Green Dot', or any gift card to avoid disconnection. Payment by phone is available through BillMatrix at 1-800-573-1147. (Note: customers will never be contacted directly by BillMatrix requiring payment.)
- Collect information from the scammer including the caller's name, any phone numbers or other details before hanging up and reporting to local law enforcement.
Virginia Natural Gas is also ramping up efforts to protect customers from utility scammers.
They warn that scammers can duplicate a company's upfront phone system, so when customers cal back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it appears legitimate.
They offer the following tips:
Red flags for scam activity
- The individual becomes angry and tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn’t made – usually within less than an hour.
- The individual instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back to supposedly make a payment to the company.
- The individual asks the customer for the prepaid card’s receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds.
How to protect yourself
- Whenever a field service representative or one of our contractors visits your home or business, they will provide Virginia Natural Gas identification. If you have further concerns, please contact customer care at 1- 866-229-3578 to confirm that a representative has been scheduled to perform work at your premises.
- When a customer service representative contacts you by phone regarding the status of your account or to discuss payment, they will identify that they are a Virginia Natural Gas employee.
- If you want to verify that the call is legitimate, request to have the representative confirm information about your account that only you and the company would know, including the date of your last payment, the amount of your last payment and your account number.
- Virginia Natural Gas will never demand payment by one method such as prepaid debit /ATM card or checking account.
- Any customer who has doubts about the legitimacy of any call from Virginia Natural Gas, especially one in which payment is requested should call us directly. If you feel uncomfortable and know you have an outstanding balance that needs to be resolved, hang up and call us directly.