Clark Public Utilities warns of deceptive calls to customers

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Once again, Clark County small businesses are in the crosshairs of utility bill scammers.

Clark Public Utilities announced this week it’s received more than 20 reports from commercial customers — mostly small restaurants — of deceptive calls claiming the businesses are overdue in their electricity bills and must cough up money immediately to avoid losing power.

“We want to make sure customers are aware that these scams continue and that some of the callers may have information that can seem legitimate — but it is not accurate,” Erica Erland, communications manager for the utility, said in an email to The Columbian. “Customers are encouraged to hang up and call the utility” — 360-992-3000 — “before making any payments over the phone.”

To further combat the swindlers, the utility is sending new automated phone calls to about 6,000 small commercial customers alerting them to the con game. The utility’s calls notify customers of “a wave of scam calls related to electric service in the area,” urge them to not make a payment when threatened with losing power and to instead call the utility.

Erland said customers who have received scam calls and who have details about the call, including caller ID numbers and when calls were made, may report that information directly to local law enforcement.

The deceptive phone calls are the latest to strike utility customers. Late last year, Clark Public Utilities warned it was noticing an increase in attempted shakedowns, the majority of which were aimed at its residential customers. That warning followed one in 2012, when the utility reported that its commercial customers had received deceptive phone calls.

Clark Public Utilities, a customer-owned utility, provides electric service to more than 185,000 customers and supplies water to more than 31,000 homes and businesses.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com