Ted Kresse works for National Grid, but he decided he would call the number anyway.
His call was automatically answered - “Thank you for calling National Grid” - and he was given a series of prompts to follow depending on his inquiry. The first was about paying his bill, but he entered the second number for a meter reading. He got music. After 10 minutes of waiting, he hung up.
Kresse knew he wasn’t calling National Grid. He had been given the number, 844-263-3289, by the Warwick Beacon.
Earlier Monday Beacon bookkeeper Lynne Taylor received a call from a man who identified himself as a National Grid employee. He said that the electric bill hadn’t been paid, that crews were in the area and unless arrangements were made, the power would be shut offin five minutes.
“He spoke very well,” said Taylor, “natural and believable.”
He gave her the number to call. Taylor suspected a scam and never called. The power stayed on. The Beacon passed the number along to National Grid.
Kresse was impressed by the sophistication of the scam. From all appearances he was calling a legitimate operation.
“They’re very smart,” he said, “they can use technology.”
Kresse alerted the Attorney General’s office and turned the number over to them.
This is not the first they have heard of the scam, said Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the Attorney General. She said that in the last week the office had received reports from nine businesses.
“Thankfully, none of them fell for the scam,” she said.
Kempe also spoke of the technology that enables operations to mimic a legitimate call center as well as the ability to set up a scam and just as quickly take it down.
But can’t technology also be used to identify the source of the calls and make arrests?
“The best we can do is report it to National Grid and to the [Federal Trade Commission], but in reality there’s not much we can do other than warn the public,” said Kempe.
She said that, typically, the operations are outside the state’s jurisdiction or even outside the country.
“It’s almost impossible to know where they come from,” she said.
There were a couple of things that tipped off Kresse that this wasn’t a legitimate National Grid call - apart from the number, which he knew was bogus. He said the company would only shut off the power after letters and multiple calls. Second, the caller would have known the balance due.
As for flushing out a scammer, Kresse recommended requesting an account number. He said only National Grid has those numbers and if the caller doesn’t have your number it’s a dead giveaway that it’s a fake call. To be certain, he said call National Grid at 800-322-3223 to verify the call.
This fall, after receiving more than a dozen complaints from small business owners, Attorney General Kilmartin urged businesses to be on high alert should they receive a phone call from a person purporting to be from National Grid.
Kilmartin’s office reported that, in some instances, the caller offers to "lower" the amount owed if the customer agrees to make an immediate payment. The caller requests payment be made by a prepaid debit-like card (available at retail locations) and provides a fraudulent phone number for the business owner to call back with the pre-paid card information. In some instances, the caller provides the location of nearby retail outlets that sell the pre-paid cards.
Kempe said scams seem to go in cycles and that scammers appear to target times of year, such as the holidays, when businesses can ill afford to lose their power and are too busy to check things out. She said homeowners and tenants have been hit with the threat of the loss of power scam. She said the IRS scam where callers claim because of unpaid back taxes they could face arrest is one of the worst. iTunes, Amazon and other forms of debit cards are demanded for payment, she said.
“And once you provide the pin number the money is gone,” she said.
Kresse said National Grid never requests payment via a prepaid debit-like card.
National Grid offered the following tips to consumers to help spot a scam call:
· Customers should always contact National Grid using the toll-free telephone numbers listed on the billing statement. If you are provided a phone number that does not match the numbers on the billing statement, it is likely the call is a scam.
· Be vigilant. If you believe you are current on your National Grid account, it is highly likely a call seeking payment is a scam.
· Verify you are speaking with a National Grid representative. One way to do this is to ask the representative to confirm the last five digits of your National Grid account number, which they should always have. If the caller doesn't know your account number and you have any doubt the caller is a National Grid representative, or if they have any questions about account balance and fish for help, take charge and hang up immediately.
· National Grid may ask for a payment over the phone, but will leave the method of payment to the customer.
· National Grid will not contact customers demanding immediate payment by wire transfer, Green Dot Money-Pak or any other pre-paid card service.
· Never – fnder any circumstances – offer personal or financial information to someone who you cannot identify.
· Every National Grid employee carries a photo ID card, and any contractor doing work for the company is also required to carry ID. If someone requesting entry into your home or place of business does not show an ID card, don't let that person in and please call National Grid or your local law enforcement.
Customers who have received calls demanding immediate payment and are asked to make a payment using an iTunes card, pre-paid debit card, or asked for bank account information should contact National Grid immediately at National Grid's Customer Contact Center at 1-800-322-3223.