October 15, 2013
COLUMBIA – At the urging of South Carolina’s electric cooperatives, state Attorney General Alan Wilson has asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate a sophisticated phone scam that is defrauding utility consumers across the state.
The scheme begins with a phone call by someone pretending to be an electric cooperative employee. The caller warns the consumer that utility service to their home or business will be disconnected unless they receive immediate payment. Scammers then direct consumers to purchase a pre-paid debit card (available at many convenience stores and pharmacies) and to call a toll-free number to deliver the serial code listed on the card. Once armed with this information, scammers have effectively stolen the money used to obtain the card.
“It’s imperative that we prevent these thieves from taking advantage of our consumer-members,” said Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “These are committed criminals who are preying upon some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Initial complaints suggested scam operators were systematically targeting the state’s Hispanic communities. In recent weeks, the illegal scheme has broadened to include small business owners and restaurants.
“Due to the volume of complaints, I have asked SLED to open a formal investigation,” said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. “I believe this is a prudent step to help protect unsuspecting consumers.”
“It’s vitally important cooperative members know that we will never call them and ask them to share personal information over the phone,” said Tom Upshaw, president and CEO of Palmetto Electric Cooperative in Ridgeland. “In addition, notice is sent to our members before we disconnect services. If you receive one of these suspicious phone calls, you should hang up and contact your local law enforcement.”
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