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Texas Utilities Sound Alert on Scam

A scam involving prepaid money cards is being targeted at members of a Texas electric cooperative and customers of a nearby municipal utility.

“The people who are calling our members are falsely claiming to be Bluebonnet employees or contractors,” said Will Holford, manager of public affairs at Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

Members who received such calls were told their accounts are delinquent and that they need to pay immediately. “The caller IDs are showing up with out-of-state area codes and phone numbers,” Holford said.

The callers suggest that members get prepaid money cards such as the MoneyPak cards available at many major retailers. “The scammers give the members a phone number to call back with the money card’s number,” Holford added.

Similar scams have been reported by co-ops in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Virginia.

So far, Bastrop-based Bluebonnet is aware of 10 members being contacted—six residential and four commercial—with the suspects largely targeting Spanish-speaking members. Some people did make payments and at least one filed a report with local law enforcement.

“The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office is handling the case, and we are assisting the investigator,” Holford said.

In a statement, Austin Energy, the municipal utility owned by the City of Austin, said some of its customers have received calls claiming their accounts are delinquent and that payment is due immediately.

“The scammers ask the customers for credit card information or suggest they go buy a money card in the amount owed and call back to provide that card number,” Austin Energy said.

Holford said any Bluebonnet member—or, for that matter, any other utility’s member or customer—who receives a call about a delinquent account should exercise caution. If there’s any question about the legitimacy of a call, Holford offered some tips.

“Get their name. Get their phone number off caller ID. Get as much information as they can and then say, ‘I’m going to hang up and call my utility to make sure what you’re telling me is accurate.’ And then do so,” he said.

And if a call comes outside regular business hours, “That should be another clue that something isn’t right,” Holford said. “Hang up and call your local law enforcement.”

| Source: Michael W. Khan, Electric Co-op Today