MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - MLGW and Better Business Bureau warned Thursday that scammers are targeting people and businesses with threats of turning off their utilities due to late payments.
Both victims to report the recent scam to BBB were Mid-South businesses: an automotive shop and a tobacco shop.
The car shop in Cordova was told on the phone that her utilities would be cut off immediately if she didn't pay a past due bill. The call said the reason she didn't receive any notifications that her payments weren't being process is because MLGW was "going green" and the system wasn't working properly. The shop owner noted that her payments had already cleared the bank and she followed up by visiting the MLGW website to confirm. An MLGW "supervisor" then took over the call advising her what needed to be done to prevent her utilities from being shut off.
"All I had to do was take $1,900 in cash to a specific location and then I would not be cut off," she said. "I realized it was a scam when they told me I would have to go to a specific location to pay, not just any MLGW office."
James Knaus, the owner at The Tinder Box in Collierville, reported a similar phone call. This time, the caller asked him to pay his $1,202 "bill" in the form of gift cards.
"Well, I bit," Knaus said. "I got the cards and phoned them in. Then they said they had made a mistake and they needed another $1,200 to satisfy the account."
When Knaus contacted MLGW, he learned his accounts were not past due.
"I didn't bite the second time," he said, "Once was enough."
According to BBB, the scammers are hoping to catch businesses off guard during a busy time of day. Similar calls have been made to residential customers, too.
MLGW reminds its customers that it will never demand payment or threaten to cut off your utilities over the phone.
"We certainly never tell any customers to buy prepaid debit cards or gift cards," MLGW President and CEO Jerry Collins Jr. said.
BBB and MLGW offered up the following tips to avoid falling victim to scams like this one:
Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason.
Remember that anyone who has the number on a prepaid card has access to the funds on the card.
Never give out personal or financial information or wire money to an unsolicited caller.
If you get a similar call, hang up and contact your local law enforcement agency.
MLGW will never direct customers to make payments through a specific method. They may advise commercial and industrial customers of pending service disconnection via mail, automated phone calls, text alerts (if enrolled) and sometimes a courtesy call to the business.
If you or your business has been targeted by this scam, share as many details as possible with BBB at bbb.org/scamtracker.