Clark Public Utilities is urging customers to be on guard against a wave of sophisticated scams targeting customers with phone calls, automated calls, and email phishing.
“No one believes they could fall for a scam, but these schemes are extremely convincing and prey on all customers, but especially the most vulnerable,” said Clark Public Utilities CEO and General Manager Wayne Nelson. “We are asking our customers to be extremely cautious when they receive a call or email from anyone claiming or appearing to be from the utility. If a call threatens disconnection and demands payment, we want customers to hang up and call our customer service directly to check the account status.”
Scammers are contacting Clark County residents by the thousands. They use spoofing websites to make the caller ID display “Clark Public Utilities” along with what appears to be a local phone number. The recorded message the customer hears sounds similar to the Clark Public Utilities automated phone system greeting. The person who then gets on the phone might even know the customer’s address, information that is available via other public sources, and will claim the customer owes an amount close to that of a typical power bill or two. It can be very convincing.
Finally, the caller will threaten to shut off the power within minutes or hours if payment is not made immediately.
The fraudsters direct the customer to buy prepaid debit cards from area stores, then instruct scam victims to call a given number back and provide the payment card information over the phone.
“Early in the conversation customers should recognize several red flags,” Nelson said. “Our customer service representatives will never call and demand payment with the threat of immediate disconnection. It’s not how we operate. We’ll also never require that customers load payments on a prepaid card. If the person on the line ever asks for that form of payment, customers should hang up immediately.”
Unfortunately, local individuals and businesses are falling for it, and as a public nonprofit utility, Clark Public Utilities cannot refund or credit the customer’s account. The utility encourages customers to report the loss to the police, but with this type of scam, it’s unlikely customers will recoup the losses.
Other scams may include emails that appear to be from the utility prompting customers to follow a link to update account information or make a payment. Customers managing their accounts online should be careful to type the utility’s website, www.clarkpublicutilities.com, directly into an internet browser and avoid clicking links from emails that may be a scam.
For customers who are behind on utility bills, a call from the utility should never be a surprise. Clark Public Utilities will call or visit a home when bills are long overdue, but only after mailing several missed payment notices. Even in these cases, customers are encouraged to be cautious, hang up or close the door, and call the utility directly at 360-992-3000. Customer service representatives will never be offended because customers are careful. Additionally, any Clark Public Utilities employee visiting a customer home or business will have visible identification and can be location verified at any time by calling customer service.
The utility is just one organization caught up in a nationwide problem. Electric industry associations, such as the American Public Power Association and several others, are working with national law enforcement agencies to capture these criminals. “These scams operate from places around the world and are very intricately designed. Until law
enforcement can eliminate this criminal activity, it’s imperative that we and our customers remain vigilant,” Nelson said.
About Clark Public Utilities
Clark Public Utilities is a customer-owned public utility that provides electric service to more than 200,000 customers throughout Clark County. The utility also provides water service to about 35,000 homes and businesses in the Hazel Dell, Salmon Creek, Lakeshore, Hockinson, Brush Prairie, La Center, Meadow Glade, Amboy, and Yacolt areas. For more information visit ClarkPublicUtilities.com or by calling 360-992-3000 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Clark Public Utilities has been ranked highest in customer satisfaction among mid-size utilities in the west by J.D. Power for eleven years in a row.