The calls come out of nowhere, and they’re as convincing as they are unexpected.
The caller ID reads “Clark Public Utilities” and the number is local. The phone is still ringing, yet the scam is already off to a convincing start.
The person on the other end of the line puts up a good act pretending to be a utility employee. The script varies, depending on the time of year and the customers targeted, but it always comes down to one thing: they want to steal your money.
They’ll verify some personal information, all of which is publicly available, or ask for it in a way that sounds like they already know it.
Once they gain your trust, they demand you pay an outstanding balance on your energy bill right away. Fail to do so and they’ll shut off your electricity in moments, they claim.
Scammers tailor their ploys to the victims they’re targeting. No matter the target, every approach is designed to be disorienting, embarrassing and urgent.
They’ll say newly relocated customers are late on a deposit. They’ll call a business during peak hours and claim they’re a couple months behind on their bills and need to pay or else lose power that instant. They tell residential customers that previous payments weren’t received or never made, and the only way to make it right is by paying with a gift card or prepaid debit card.
Those customers are told to go to a store to purchase the card, then call a specific phone number to make the payment.
Often that number is answered by a recording that sounds very similar to the Clark Public Utilities answering service. From that point, well-meaning scam victims are connected to a person who takes the prepaid debit card information and hangs up. They take the money and run.
They want to keep you from thinking too much. Because if you stop to consider the demands, it becomes clear that something is not right.
“It’s important our customers understand that we’d never make such urgent and drastic demands of our customers,” said Clark Public Utilities Customer Service Manager Robert Hill. “We make it a priority to work with our customers when they’re behind.”
Calls aren’t the only tool at the scammer’s disposal. They also use email and sometimes in-person visits.
If an email claims to be from Clark Public Utilities, look for “clarkpud.com” at the end of the email address. Customers who manage their accounts online should type the utility’s website, www.clarkpublicutilities.com, directly into an internet browser and then log in to MyAccount.
When contacted by someone claiming to be a utility employee, customers should hang up or close the door, then call the utility directly at 360-992-3000 to verify the contact. Employees will never be offended because you want to be cautious.
Clark Public Utilities employees are required to wear visible identification. If you have any doubts that the person at your door is with the utility, don’t hesitate to ask to inspect then verify their ID with a quick call to customer service.
Clark Public Utilities cannot refund victims. Anyone who has given money to a scam or been contacted by one should make a report with the police. Sadly, scam victims rarely recoup lost funds.
That’s why the utility wants customers to be prepared in case they’re targeted.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.