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Valley woman warns of utility bill scammers

Holiday money-saving strategies that can backfire
Posted at 5:13 AM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 10:11:16-04

PHOENIX — As the state sets records for heat this summer, some Arizonans are growing concerned about keeping the air conditioning on.

They're getting calls from people saying they represent utilities and you are behind on a payment. If you don't pay the amount owed, they will have to shut off your electricity.

Valley resident Naana got the call. "Service people are coming your way to disconnect your unit as we speak," she says she was told. But Naana knew she always paid her bill on time.

"Oh it's not your bill, it's your meter," the caller told her. She said Naana's house needed a digital meter and they needed to collect a deposit of more than $400 or her electricity would be disconnected.

"At this point, I'm panicking, it's hot," Naana said. But the call didn't come from a utility. It came from a scammer using these hot temps, and a pandemic to make people panic, act quickly, and not think clearly.

If Naana had checked, she'd have found utilities won't turn off power because of payment issues during summer months. For APS and Tucson Electric, that delay is until October 15. It's September 30 for SRP customers.

But again, Naana is in panic mode as she listened to the caller's directions. "She said go to Walmart and we can do the transaction there." To pay the bill, she drives to Walmart and buys more than $400 worth of gift cards as instructed. Naana says the whole time, the caller was on the phone with her. Naana is told to read the numbers on the back of the cards. Once you do that, it's like handing over cash.

Later, Naana says she worried about it and called her bank. She says the bank told her it could not be a scam. That may make what Naana did next, more understandable. She got another call telling her the money didn't go through and they'd have to complete another transaction.

Still worried about an electricity shut off, Naana says she was back at Walmart buying more than $400 in gift cards again and reading the numbers to the caller. It wasn't until after this, with nearly $1,000 done, Naana says she knew it was all just a scam. "I felt horrible. I was sucked in when I knew something was wrong and I didn't go with my instinct to cut it off," she said.

Naana told her story to help you do what she did not do. With any call, text, or email claiming an emergency and wanting money, you must trust your instincts, don't act quickly, and verify all of the information first.

There is some good news. Naana says she contested the withdrawals with her bank and they put all of the money back into her account!