Phone scams ramp up as holidays near

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Phone scams targeting SWEPCO customers ramp up during the holidays but calling the power company can help customers avoid a ripoff.

On Nov.1, Kilgore Police Department published a Facebook post warning of scammers posing as SWEPCO employees, stating the department recently received several complaints about scams. The post described a common scam: customers may receive a call from a person posing as a SWEPCO employee, demanding payment with a prepaid debit card and threatening a power shutoff.

Kilgore Police Department Assistant Chief Roman Roberson said these deceptions can take many forms.

“There’s all kinds of variations of those types of scams,” Roberson said. “The best advice I can give, if someone calls from SWEPCO, verify who they are and call SWEPCO. If you have any doubts, before you take any action, the best thing to do would be to hang up and contact the company directly so you know who you’re talking to.”

Roberson’s advice was echoed by Karen Wissing, communications consultant for SWEPCO.

“What we recommend, if there’s any hesitation, is to hang up and immediately call our service line,” Wissing said.

She said scams occur more frequently during the holiday season and scammers use sophisticated tactics to fool customers.

“One recent tool these scammers are using is they can call a customer’s cell phone and use some type of app that allows their phone number to show up as our customer service line. They do hit customers harder, they call much more frequently near holidays when people are in a busier mindset,” Wissing said, adding customers who are in a holiday rush may pay up over the phone to avoid a threatened power cutoff.

She said scammers typically target small businesses, senior citizens and SWEPCO customers who do not speak English as their native language.

“Having our customer service line show up on your caller ID, it can be scary. It’s hard to believe it’s not SWEPCO,” Wissing said.

She said SWEPCO never demands immediate payment over the phone and does not threaten customers with a shutoff if payment isn’t made. Instead, SWEPCO will send customers a notice if a bill is past due and will give them the opportunity to bring their account up to date.

Wissing said SWEPCO customers have options to learn about fraud and take action against scammers. SWEPCO offers a mobile phone app, allowing customers to check their balance at any time to see if their bill is past due. Also, customers who think they may be targeted by a scammer can call SWEPCO to ask if they were speaking with an actual employee, as the company keeps records of calls made to customers.

If someone visits a SWEPCO customer’s home claiming to work for the company, the customer can ask to see their ID, as SWEPCO employees are required to carry ID badges at all times. There have been no reports of scammers making fake ID badges, Wissing said, though some have created phony bills with SWEPCO logos to demand payment from customers.

SWEPCO never asks for payment with prepaid debit cards and does not meet with customers to receive payment, Wissing said, referring to reports of scammers asking customers to meet in a parking lot to hand over money.

For more information, or to report a suspected scam, visit www.SWEPCO.com/StopScams or call the SWEPCO customer service line at 1-888-216-3523.

– By LUCAS STROUGH

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