The Turlock Irrigation District is seeing an uptick in so-called “phishing” scams, where fraudsters pretend to be district employees to obtain customers' credit card numbers and personal information.
According to TID, the scammers call households pretending to be district employees. The customer's bill is past due, the scammer says, and their power will be disconnected unless they make a payment immediately.
Typically, the caller will instruct the customer to purchase a pre-paid money card at a store. Then, then the customer is told to call back and hand over the number of the untraceable card.
Sometimes, instead, the caller asks for a standard credit card number. That card is then inevitably used for fraudulent transactions.
The scammers are tough to shake, TID says. If the mark says the bill was paid, the scammer indicates the check was returned without a signature. If the customer says they're heading to TID's office, the scammer says that a TID technician is already en-route to the customer's home.
The fraudulent phone calls can come at any time of the day, or even at night, TID said. The district only calls customers to collect past-due accounts during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. TID does not use e-mail, social media, or text messaging to solicit payment.
TID also does not employ any third-party vendors for payment collection, or any agency offering door-to-door rebates or promotions. District employees always drive white vehicles with TID logos on the door panels. They wear blue shirts with embroidered TID logos, and have company-issued ID badges.
TID warns customers that they will never ask for payment via pre-paid money card. The district always requests that post-due payments are made at a TID office, though payments can be made by credit card over the phone.
The district notes that electrical disconnections are a last resort. All customers are notified by mail and phone of delinquent payments prior to disconnection.
Downtown Turlock's 10 East Kitchen & Tap Room was almost a victim of a similar scam last month, when a caller pretended to be from PG&E's collections department.
“It’s a pretty good scam, heck they even stayed on the line until we were on the other line with PG&E making sure we were current with our payments,” said 10 East Co-Owner Titus Striplin.
“We did some digging afterwards and traced the number back to a Magic Jack internet phone from Kenya,” explained Striplin. “We’ve had several customers who told us they had the same thing happen to them and we even had one customer who told us he lost $180 and had to cancel all of his accounts.”
TID suggests that all customers stay wary of “pushy people” and callers who threaten to shut off power, particularly those who demand payment information or personal information. Customers are advised to hang up and call 209-883-8222 if they have any questions about a supposed TID phone call.
For more information, visit http://www.tid.org/customer-service/for-your-protection.