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Scammers pose as NOVEC reps

Friday, Aug. 22 | By Julie Taylor
From a NOVEC release:

MANASSAS, Va. — Scam artists are deceiving homeowners, renters, and businesses in Virginia and across the nation. In the last month, an area restaurant, a grocery store, and an ice cream shop have been victimized by fraudulent callers who claimed to be representing Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative.

NOVEC warns all consumers to be alert to anyone who claims to represent NOVEC and directs them to pay bills with a specific prepaid debit card. Any Co-op consumer who receives a suspicious call should report it to their local police and to NOVEC at 703-335-0500 or toll-free 1-888-335-0500.

“We’ve had a lot of reports from customers about callers who say they’re with NOVEC and demand money through prepaid debit cards,” says Pam Ringel, NOVEC customer service center supervisor. “We’ve even had reports from people who live in Maryland and West Virginia where NOVEC doesn’t provide electric service.”

Scammers are posing as representatives of utilities, other businesses, and police departments. Scammers usually call on the phone, often with “spoofing” technology that indicates on Caller ID that the call is coming from a legitimate business. But some scammers are going to homes and businesses, posing as utility workers, and asking for entry. The Stafford County Sherriff’s Office sent a news release in June about two men posing as power company employees who went to the home of an elderly female. The imposters said they needed to check her lights. While she was distracted, the imposters stole an undetermined amount of cash.

Sheriff Charles Jett said, “This is a mean-spirited crime aimed at some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

In July, a NOVEC customer jotted down the return phone number of a scam call he received and reported it to NOVEC. Ringel called the number. A recording said, “You have reached the gas & electric disconnection and dispatch department.” Ringel said, “Notice how a specific company’s name is not given, nor is the name of any specific individual. I don’t know of any legitimate company that doesn’t have their name listed in the greeting of their voice messages.”

Last spring, a NOVEC employee who lives outside of the Co-op’s service territory received an automated call that indicated it was from her electricity provider. The message said her bill was overdue and instructed her to purchase a prepaid debt card, then call back and provide the number on the card. “I knew it was a scammer,” the employee said, “because my payments are electronically transferred from my bank automatically each month.”

"NOVEC sometimes places automated courtesy phone calls to remind customers that their accounts are past due, but the messages never ask for Social Security, credit card, debit card, or bank account numbers, or give a dollar amount that a customer must pay," Ringel states. "Nor do the messages tell customers what payment method to use. We’re advising Co-op members to call customer service at 703-335-0500 or 1-888-335-0500 to verify their account information after receiving suspicious calls or text messages, even if the number displayed on their phones is NOVEC’s. We’re also advising them to contact the police or report the incident to a consumer affairs bureau.”

The police have also been drawn into the scam epidemic. The Fairfax County Police have told citizens to be alert to callers who claim to be detectives and use scare tactics to bully victims into giving personal and financial information. The Sully District Station said, “Under no circumstances should you provide these individuals your information or meet with them in person to give them money.” The station said to report scam attempts to the police.

Regarding imposters who show up at the door and claim to be Co-op employees, Ringel points out that NOVEC service personnel wear Co-op uniforms, and their vehicles display NOVEC’s name and logo clearly. Ringel says, “If you feel threatened, lock your door and call 911 immediately. Then call NOVEC to verify a suspicious person’s identity.”

The Virginia Attorney General’s office notes that scammers are apparently targeting Spanish-speaking and elderly people and businesses in particular.

Protect yourself and your family

*Always attempt to verify the identity of a caller who claims to represent a business. Do not provide money or personal information to an unsolicited caller whose identity cannot be verified.

*Do not make a payment by purchasing a Green Dot card or other means when told to do so.

*If using MoneyPak, never give your MoneyPak number or receipt information to someone you don’t know. Use MoneyPak only to reload prepaid cards or accounts you control.

*Always take time making a decision. Legitimate companies don't pressure customers to make snap decisions.

*If you received a suspicious call and made a payment to the scammer, report it to the local police, or to state or federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

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