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FirstEnergy ramps up scam awareness

AKRON — FirstEnergy is warning customers to on high alert for phone calls or door-to-door visits from scammers trying to trick them into paying fictional unpaid bills to avoid immediate shutoff.

Realizing scammers feed off people’s fear of losing heat in the cold weather, FirstEnergy and dozens of other electric and gas companies have joined for Utility Scam Awareness Week, Nov. 17-23, to prevent customers from falling victim to scams.

The annual awareness week is organized by Utilities United Against Scams, a group of more than 100 utilities and related organizations, to educate the public about the ever-growing list of scams targeting utility customers.

“We take our customers’ safety and security very seriously,” said Gary W. Grant, vice president of customer service for FirstEnergy Utilities. “Scammers can be very convincing and often target our most vulnerable customers, particularly senior citizens.”

FirstEnergy utilities this year have received more than 1,600 reports of scams from customers, which is outpacing last year’s reported scams by more than 200. Scam attempts are even higher because many go unreported to the company or law enforcement.

Although the scammers work year-round, they are most active in the winter and summer months when people are most concerned about not having heat or air conditioning.

With a goal of keeping customers informed about all types of utility scams, FirstEnergy’s award-winning video, “Hang Up, Don’t Pay Up: When a Scammer Calls,” features two business owners contacted by phone scammers impersonating FirstEnergy electric company employees.

The video – which has been viewed more than 150,000 times – provides red flags and tips for avoiding scams.

FirstEnergy customers are urged to keep the following information in mind to help ensure the safety of their family, property and personal information:

* Customers who are behind on their accounts receive written notices of a possible disconnection and how to prevent it. FirstEnergy representatives will not call or email to demand immediate payment to avoid a same-day shutoff.

* While FirstEnergy representatives often make courtesy calls to customers to remind them about an outstanding balance, they would explain how a payment can be made using the established payment options. They would never require a customer to purchase a pre-paid money card as the only acceptable means of payment.

* FirstEnergy field collectors working in New Jersey, Maryland and Ohio – carrying company-issued photo identification – will offer customers with past-due accounts the opportunity to pay their bill in person before shutting them off.

* FirstEnergy employees do not contact customers to request sensitive information such as social security numbers or bank account information.

* Scammers often use Caller ID spoofing software to misrepresent the source of a phone call to further mislead and confuse their targets. Call-back numbers provided by these criminals often use greetings and hold messages that mimic legitimate businesses.

* If customers have any doubts about the status of their electric service, they should call their utility company using the customer service phone number listed on the FirstEnergy website to ask about their account. Never dial the phone number the scammer provides.

* Customers who suspect a scam should hang up the phone or close the door and call the local police then FirstEnergy.

“We encourage customers to contact us directly using the phone number listed on our website and on their billing statement if they need to verify the status of their electric account or confirm the identity of a FirstEnergy employee,” Grant said.

“When in doubt, always give us a call.”

FirstEnergy serves customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and New York.

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