• Scam targeting utility customers uses tactics leaving customers vulnerable

    By: John Knicely

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - Scammers are going to great lengths to appear legit to utility customers across Western Washington.

    Before you write it off as an obvious scam, KIRO 7 is sharing how they catch customers in a panic and sound legit.

    Rohan Joseph has been targeted twice now -- most recently over the holidays. Joseph owns Elliott Bay Crossfit in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, and the scammers called right before an afternoon class demanding immediate credit card payment.

    “They were like we're coming, we'll be there within the hour to shut off your power,” Joseph said told KIRO 7 on Thursday. “Obviously being a gym owner, power is very necessary to our business, so I freaked out.”

    The initial call was automated so Joseph called back in a hurry before his class started.

    “The thing was I called them back and their automated line was a Seattle City Light message, so it sounded legit,” Joseph said. “The person they told me to ask for I asked for, and got on the phone and explained everything. It sounded totally legit. And I almost fell for it.”

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    In the panic he contacted his landlord and after a half-hour of phone calls, the landlord confirmed with the real Seattle City Light that it was a scam. But Joseph said he had his credit card out and almost just paid to make sure he had power for class.

    “Sadly it's not uncommon,” Seattle City Light Communications Director Scott Thomsen told KIRO 7. 

    Thomsen said it’s a scam that targets utility customers across Western Washington and across the country. They get a few calls a week from victims and said some some lose hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

    “We're never going to call you and demand payment over the phone immediately to avoid a shutoff,” Thomsen said.

    City Light, like most utilities, will give you two written notices about billing issues before shutting off service.  

    Though the scam isn't new, the scammers update their tactics. Some make the real Seattle City Light customer service number appear on your caller ID.

    “That's not the number they're calling from, but they can reprogram the outbound dialer to show that number on your screen when you receive it,” Thomsen said. “There are a lot of things they use here to use to get you off your game and make the appearance that something's real when it's not.”

    The second time Joseph got the call, he knew better and hung up immediately. And that's the advice to you. Once you notice any red flag, hang up and call your utility's customer service number.

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