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Phone scam pretends to be utility, threatens power shut-off

Phone scam pretends to be utility, threatens power shut-off

The scammers later changed their operation to impersonate an Indiana utility company, according to National Grid.
Phone scam pretends to be utility, threatens power shut-off
Photographer: Shutterstock

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A new phone scam that preys on victims' fear of having their utilities shut off nearly netted money from a Spa City salon employee, who was struck by the sophistication of the scheme.

Leanne Miller, an employee at Fusion Salon on Division Street, received a call Thursday that showed up on her caller ID as coming from National Grid. The voice on the other end of the line told her the salon's power would be shut off in 45 minutes. 

Unsure if the voice was that of a human or a robot, Miller asked if the power being shut off was for a test, to which the voice gave her another number to call. A woman answering that line told Miller that the power would be shut off in 45 minutes due to non-payment of the utility bill. 

"They said [the owner] could pay with a debit card, or go to the Albany National Grid store to pay," Miller wrote in an email Monday. "However, that was over 45 minutes away." 

Fearing the worst, but suspicious nonetheless, Miller and her boss decided to call National Grid's billing department — a different number than the one the scammers used. The National Grid staffer told them their balance was all paid up. 

"Unfortunately, we hear about this all the time," said Nate Stone, a spokesman for National Grid in eastern New York. "It happens every single year ... It's usually an out-of-state criminal enterprise." 

Stone said he was pleased Miller and her boss did all of the right things — refraining from offering any financial information and checking the caller's phone numbers against the ones listed publicly for National Grid. 

While scams like this are nothing new, according to Stone, the phone tree and main menu the scammers set up to mimic National Grid's system was sophisticated. 

"They became really good at social engineering by setting up their own phone system and hierarchy," Stone said. "The telltale sign is when you call back and it's not one of our numbers." 

Miller said she contacted the police about the scam — and Stone said several authorities are aware of the scams.

By Friday, Miller called the scammers back and discovered they had dropped the National Grid front in favor of a power utility in Indianapolis. 

"They just keep getting better and better at it," Stone said. "All they do is keep switching around." 

Reach Gazette reporter Jake Lahut at [email protected] or @JakeLahut on Twitter.

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