You’ve heard of imposters demanding that electric cooperative consumer-members make immediate payments to avoid having their power shut off, but there’s a new version of that scheme making the rounds.

Recently, members with prepaid metering at Mohave Electric Cooperative reported receiving low-balance alerts despite having sufficient credit in their accounts.

Heath Barker, chief information officer at the Bullhead City, Arizona-based co-op, said the two members who contacted the co-op didn’t lose money.

“We would have received more complaints, but we got right out there and put out a press release ahead of time,” an effort that includes local public information officers, said Barker.

While phone scams related to electric service aren’t uncommon, said Barker, the mid-June calls were unusually deceptive. Instead of a live person placing the call, the perpetrator deployed robocall technology.

“They either created their own software or configured a piece of an interactive voice-response system to make the calls,” he said.

The co-op sound-alike message also included an amount owed, which “we would never do for privacy reasons,” said Barker. “The amount had nothing to do with what the member had on the account. It was just a number to spur a response.”

After peaking in mid-2018, utility-related scams have decreased, according to Melissa Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, the educational foundation of the Better Business Bureau. A three-year search of data found that about half of utility scam calls pertain to electricity service, and a third involve threats of bogus electricity shut-offs.

As for the prepaid alerts, “we can’t find any instances where a scammer asked to increase the amount on a prepaid utility account,” Trumpower added.

Regardless of the number of phony calls, they’re still a nuisance.

“Our members over the past years have been consistently trained by local businesses and the police department to hang up on these kinds of calls and call the business directly to avoid scams,” said Barker. “It takes a community to help protect our most vulnerable residents from these types of fraudulent attacks.”

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