Phone Scam Targets Small Business Owners

Action News 4 recently reported that a new phone scam is targeting small business owners by telling them to pay outstanding utility bills. Investigation is being carried by Washington County police after several small business owners reported the crime.

Below is the full news:

Phone scam targeting small business owners threatens to cut power if bill not paid

MONONGAHELA, Pa. —Police in Washington County are investigating after several small business owners reported phone scam artists tried to swindle hundreds of dollars by trying to get them to pay utility bills with prepaid cards or face having their power cut.

VIDEO: Watch Ashlie Hardway’s report

Monongahela Police Chief Brian Tempest said small business owner Elaine Amos called Wednesday afternoon after receiving a phone call from a man with an accent who told her she had to pay an outstanding electric bill from West Penn Power or the service to her beauty salon would be cut within 30 minutes. Tempest said the number on Amos’ caller identification came up as West Penn Power, and the number he told her to call had an automated recording similar to the utility company’s.

“The caller ID, the recording — everything sounded legitimate until they ask for a prepaid card. At that point, it’s a scam,” Tempest said.

Amos said the caller told her she couldn’t pay her bill with check or credit card, that she would have to go to the Dollar General on Main Street and buy a prepaid card. Then, she was supposed to call him back and provide him with the prepaid card numbers.

“He said, ‘You’ll need to go there. Go to the pre-paid card section. Call this number with this extension and ask for this person.’ He gave me the name and everything,” Amos said.

Amos said she hung up with the caller and dialed the phone number for West Penn listed on her monthly statement. The operator told her it was a scam, and she called police.

“If people could use their brains for good stuff in the world rather than cheat people out of stuff, this world would be such a better place,” Amos said. “It was such an elaborate scheme.”

Amos said the man called her back and she told him she knew it was a scheme.

“I said, ‘This is it! I know it’s a scam. You’re a scam artist. Don’t call back,'” Amos said.

A manager from Dollar General told police she had a line of small business owners waiting to buy prepaid cards on Wednesday. When she asked them why, they told her they needed them to pay electric bills or their power would be cut, Tempest said. Police said that’s when the manager pulled all the cards, warned other dollar store employees in the area of the scam and called police.

Tempest said the phone number Amos was instructed to call has since been disconnected, but he believes the crooks are still trying to call business owners in the area. Tempest said he thinks criminals are targeting businesses because if the person who answers the phone isn’t sure if the bill was paid because it’s not that person’s responsibility to pay it, the confusion might cause the worker to pay the bill quickly to avoid a loss of power. He asks anyone who receives these calls to contact local police.

For a list of safety tips from First Energy, West Penn’s parent company, click here.

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