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Wave of scammers posing as Clark Public Utilities employees target small businesses

Companies receiving threats of power shutoff

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 15, 2024, 6:05am

Scammers posing as Clark Public Utilities employees are targeting small businesses in the area, threatening immediate disconnection of their power.

The utility started getting calls last week from customers warning of the latest round of scam calls.

Dameon Pesanti, spokesman for Clark Public Utilities, said scams targeting utility customers come in waves, seemingly targeting various parts of the country at a time.

“This is not the first time, unfortunately, Clark Public Utilities customers have been targeted,” Pesanti said. “And as much as I really wish this would be the last time, I don’t think it will be.”

The latest scam targets small commercial customers. The thief demands customers buy prepaid Visa cards for payment to avoid being immediately disconnected from power.

It’s a similar scam to those seen in the past.

“Power is like the lifeblood of a small business,” Pesanti said. “They have to have the lights on.”

The utility has heard scammers tend to call businesses during busy times, adding panic in the moment. In past waves, the scammers have also tended to target businesses where the owner doesn’t speak English as their first language.

Scammers can make their phone number appear local and even list themselves as a public utility on a caller ID.

“I can’t emphasize this enough; they’re so convincing,” Pesanti said. “They will get anybody.”

The utility encourages customers to be vigilant when receiving a phone call. Pesanti said to be on the lookout for two major red flags.

The utility will never threaten immediate disconnection. There will always be ample communication from Clark Public Utilities if a customer is behind on payment.

“We will offer to work with them. We will try to set up payment plans. We will offer financial assistance,” Pesanti said.

Disconnection comes only after months of trying to work with customers, he added.

Second, the utility will never ask customers to pay using a prepaid card or phone app.

If a customer is unsure who they’re talking to, they can hang up and call the utility back at its customer service line: 360-992-3000.