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West Virginia officials warn of new utility phone scam

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Public Service Commission warned residents Thursday of a new twist to an old phone scam.

The latest version of the scam is disturbing because the callers have enough specific information about a utility bill to make them sound credible, the commission said.

In a recent example, an Appalachian Power Co. customer in the Beckley area received a call from a scammer claiming to represent the utility and threatening to shut off service if the customer didn’t pay the amount demanded.

The caller insisted that the customer had to provide her bank debit card information and pay $778.09, the exact amount of the customer’s last bill, which she had paid a few weeks earlier.

The customer told the scammer that she had paid the bill in person and had a receipt. The scammer continued to push, saying that the payment had not been processed and the company never received the money. The scammer continued to threaten the customer with loss of service if she did not provide her debit card information.

The customer hung up and called the customer service number on her utility bill. The company assured her the account was in good standing.

The customer then reported the scam to the Public Service Commission, which contacted the utility and was told by customer service of other instances of the scam.

“Never engage with these criminals,” Commission Chairman Charlotte Lane said.

“If you receive a call from someone who threatens to shut off your utility service and demands payment, hang up immediately and call the number on your utility bill,” Lane said. “Your utility representatives will provide accurate information about any outstanding balance and will appreciate the report of any scams that are being perpetrated in their name. You should also report the scam to local police.”

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