CHARLESTON -– Small business owners who are customers of Appalachian Power in West Virginia are the latest targets of scam artists seeking to extort cash. The scam, which instructs customers to purchase prepaid debit cards, such as a Vanilla or Green Dot, has been used in other states.
“Customers are receiving calls from a man who tells them that AEP no longer accepts payments by check or credit card, that their payments have been returned and that they owe $1,000 that must be paid immediately with a prepaid credit card. This is completely false,” said Jeri Matheney, Appalachian Power spokesperson. “Although most of the reports we are receiving this week are in West Virginia, it is safe to assume that this type of scam also is happening in Virginia and Tennessee.”
Utility company scams, unfortunately, are too common. While there are instances when Appalachian Power will contact customers over the telephone, the company does not demand payment in this manner, Matheney said.
“If customers receive any 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,” she said.
Here are some tips consumers can use:
* 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 to anyone who comes to your home, calls or sends an e-mail 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. Contact police if you become concerned about your safety.
Appalachian Power has 1 million customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee (as AEP Appalachian Power). It is a unit of American Electric Power, one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, which delivers electricity to more than 5 million customers in 11 states. AEP ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning nearly 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S. AEP also owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a nearly 39,000-mile network that includes more 765 kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission lines than all other U.S. transmission systems combined.