North Olympic Peninsula public utility districts are warning customers to be wary of scammers as fraudulent activity is being seen across the state.
Several Jefferson County businesses received calls Monday from a man claiming to be a representative of the Jefferson County PUD, demanding immediate payment of a supposed overdue bill or face services being shut off.
Clallam County PUD Communications Manager Nicole Clark said there was a round of scammer activity in June in her area.
Jefferson PUD Customer Service Coordinator Jean Hall said that the Jefferson County calls were scams and that the PUD would never act in that manner.
“The scammers ask for payment by a credit card or checking account. In some instances, they tell customers to get a prepaid card from the grocery store and make an immediate payment, or they will shut them off.”
She said as far as she knows, no one has fallen for this scam. Several customers called the PUD to verify if they paid their bills.
Jefferson PUD Communications Manager Will O’Donnell said commercial and residential utility customers across the state are being targeted. The callers demand instant payment over the phone or threaten power shutoff. Sometimes they even try to arrange to have the customer meet them in person.
“We saw a flurry of activity in June and then it went away,” Clark said of Clallam customers. “We immediately posted information on social media and let others share the warning. This seems to have targeted our residential customers.”
Clark said that they have an automated phone system to pay bills and representatives would never ask for financial information.
Amanda Funaro, principal operations officer of Good Man Sanitation, said she received a call Monday.
“Someone claiming to be with the PUD called our office [Monday]. They told me our bill was delinquent and they were going to shut off the power. I knew we had paid and looked up the check number. I just received a new invoice that was sitting on my desk so I thought this was strange since I hadn’t gotten a shut-off notice. I asked for a number to call back so I could go through my files.”
Funaro called the phone number. The man said he had trouble finding Good Man’s account by the customer number or the business name. She provided him the address and she was put on hold.
“He came back on and I gave him the check number and confirmed the payment. He said he wasn’t seeing that in his records.
“I see you made a payment but we misappropriated the funds to another account. Unfortunately there’s a GPS device attached to your meter and it’s already scheduled to be turned off. So we will refund you the payment and send you a cashiers check, but we need for you to make a payment today on this account to prevent it from being shut-off.”
She asked where he was located and he said Olympia.
“I told him this sounded really shady and he hung up the phone immediately.”
Funaro called the PUD and confirmed that this is not how it does business and that her account was current. Then she called the sheriff’s office and reported the scam.
O’Donnell said that the PUD has procedures in place if an account is in arrears.
“If a business is far behind on their payments they’ll have lots of notifications. It wouldn’t be one last-minute call. We generally send an automated call directing them to call customer service or our pay-by-phone line.
“They would get a statement saying they were late. Then they would get a phone call or a door hanger. We give a lot of notice before we shut off. And we offer payment arrangements.
“And, we never demand anyone go get a grocery store prepaid card to pay our bill, or arrange to meet in person in a parking lot.”
O’Donnell said another scam is actually happening to the Jefferson County PUD itself.
“Utilities are being targeted more frequently around the state. We’re getting hit with phishing emails supposedly from other PUDs with attachments for us to open.”
Jefferson PUD reminds the public that a customer service representative will never take a credit card number or checking account number over the phone. They will be directed to a pay-by-phone line or instructed to go to its smart hub website.
“We go a long way to give customers plenty of notice of impending issues with their accounts,” said Hall. “Please be aware that this scam is happening in our community.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].