Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson

When temperatures rise — so do tempers, crime, and power bills. Mix a few of those together and you get a nasty brew of scammers posing as the local power company. In fact, Better Business Bureau has received multiple reports of scammers calling residents and businesses claiming to be power companies and threatening to shut off the juice if they don’t pay up.

And, the scam is pricey. An Idaho woman recently lost $897 to this con job. The report to BBB Scam Tracker said she received a message claiming to be Idaho Power saying her power would be shut off in 30 minutes. Panicked, she called back and reached what sounded like the real Idaho Power answering message. When she got someone on the phone, they listed addresses for two of her properties and said her nearly $900 bill was overdue. It was almost 5 p.m., and the scammer told her they were about to close, and she needed to pay immediately. “I was told to go to Walgreens and purchase Money Pac cards and then to call the technician who was sitting at the jobsite to turn the power off and give him the card numbers. I did.”

In the hot summer months, the pressure is on. Getting a call late in the evening with threats your electricity will be shut off means you may act before recognizing the red flags. Your mind may, understandably, flash to the air conditioning keeping your house cool, the fully stocked fridge keeping your food fresh or your business that needs lights on in the office.

Idaho Power is well aware of this scam that continues to use its name to con customers into paying scammers for bills they don’t owe. But, whatever the season, Idaho Power Spokesman Jordan Rodriguez says the utility, “NEVER demands immediate payment over the phone.” Rodriguez says instead, the utility sends out payment reminders as well as offering payment arrangements. “

BBB offers these tips to spot this scam:

— Prepaid debit cards and wire transfers are a red flag. If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, this is a huge warning sign. Your utility company will accept a check or credit card.

— Pressure to pay immediately. Scammers press for immediate payment and may try to intimidate you into giving them your personal and banking information.

Protect yourself from falling victim by hanging up and calling customer service directly, using the number on your utility bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative. Never give your personal or banking information to an unverified or unsolicited caller.

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of a scam should contact their local law enforcement and report it to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for Better Business Bureau, serving the Northwest and Pacific. Contact her by emailing jeremy.johnson@thebbb.org.