Port Angeles officials warn of utility phone scam

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — If city utility customers get a phone call in the evening demanding instant power bill payment or their electricity will be shut off, it won’t be from the city.

Rick Hostetler, the city’s customer service manager, said at least five residents in the past month have reported phone calls from people claiming to be working for the city and demanding immediate payment for past-due utility bills.

“I think some of these calls are coming in at night,” Hostetler said.

“I don’t know what immediate means, but it’s scaring [the customers].”

The callers threaten to shut off power if payment is not immediately received, Hostetler said.

Hostetler said city utility staff would never call customers and threaten to immediately cut off electricity.

Customers who are past due on their bills will get at least one automated call from the city and a notice in the mail before power is shut off, Hostetler said.

“The city is willing to work reasonably with customers, and all it takes is a phone call before their service is disconnected,” Hostetler said.

Police investigating

Brian Smith, deputy city police chief, said Thursday that police are working to determine the source of the calls and do not yet know if they originate within the U.S.

“If we have someone doing it locally, we could take some action or some action in the jurisdiction of the United States,” Smith said.

In one instance of such calls reported to the police, Smith said the customer was talked into transferring $100 to the caller via a prepaid credit card.

“Except in one instance, I don’t think any of the people believed it was really a legitimate call,” Smith said.

In all the instances reported, Smith said, the customers called were not behind on their utility bills.

Notices about the scam calls are expected to be included in upcoming customer utility bills.

Smith said anyone who receives such a call should write down names or phone numbers remembered from it and contact police at 360-452-4545 or visit in person the city’s utility customer service desk at 321 E. Fifth St.

“We would like to hear about it,” Smith said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 19. 2013 5:37PM
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