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Mainers Warned Of Electricity Disconnection SCAM - Nov. 12, 2013

Augusta, Maine -- The Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA), and Maine's Attorney General are warning Mainers of a nationwide scam involving the threat of disconnection of their electric service.

The scam involves telephone callers claiming to be from a utility company and then employing a variety of techniques to defraud customers.  Some threaten customers with disconnecting electric service to their home or business if they don't make a payment immediately.  The scam artist instructs them to send money via prepaid card or online payment service, such as PayPal or GreenDot, before their power is shut off.  

The scammer's caller-ID is falsified so it appears to originate from the utility company, a practice known as "spoofing."  A significant number of Maine consumers have reported receiving these types of calls.

"With cold temperatures on their way, uninterrupted electric service is especially critical for all of us.  Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who try to take advantage of our need for this vital service," observed MPUC Chair Thomas Welch. "We urge people to be wary of scams like the one described here."

Tim Schneider, Public Advocate, added, "Any threat to shut off power is scary, but particularly for the small business customers this scam is targeting.  Be sure to call your utility directly before making any payments based on an unsolicited call."

Janet Mills, Maine's Attorney General, added, "No legitimate business will ask you to wire them money or tell you to send them a gift card to make a payment.  If you receive a call like this, the best thing to do is to just hang up and do not engage with the caller."

If you receive a phone call, email, text, or even a visit from someone telling you to make a utility payment via PayPal, or to buy a GreenDot card or a gift card, it's probably a scam.  Do not make the payment and instead call your utility company at the phone number that appears on your bill, describe what happened, and report the scammers to Maine's Attorney General's Consumer Information and Mediation Service's at 1-800-436-2131 or the Federal Trade Commission, by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

If you are the victim of one of these scams and are unable to negotiate a mutually agreeable payment arrangement with your utility, you can call the MPUC's Consumer Assistance Division for assistance at 1-800-452-4699.