Scammers target utility customers

Staff Reports • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:20 PM

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, including Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative, ask Wilson County residents to be on alert for a telephone scam that continues to plague utility consumers.

Scam artists call a home or business posing as a co-op or utility employee and threaten to shut off service unless the consumer provides immediate payment using a reloadable debit card, prepaid gift card or online payment service like PayPal.

“The calls sound official, and the caller ID may even display the utility name,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “This is particularly harmful to consumers because there is no way to track or recover the money.”

Officials said MTEMC representatives won’t:

• call members to request credit card, banking or other financial information over the telephone.

• call members threatening immediate disconnection unless a payment is made. 

• ask to enter any home unless the request is initiated by a customer for co-op personnel to perform a specific service. Co-ops do this only by appointment and with a member’s prior knowledge.

“We are asking co-op members to be wary of any phone calls,” Callis said. “If in doubt, hang up immediately and look up your electric cooperative’s phone number. Call it directly to be certain you are dealing with an official representative of the cooperative.”

Law enforcement officials are looking into reported fraud cases, but consumers are encouraged to protect themselves by being alert and aware. 

“It’s important for Tennesseans to be cautious and vigilant,” said Steve Majchrzak, deputy commissioner and acting consumer affairs director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. “Scam artists can find their way into your home and pocketbook through the phone. The best defense against this type of theft is to take a guarded approach to any unknown caller and always do your research to ensure the caller’s authenticity.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Learn more at tnelectric.org.

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