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Marylanders lost $70,000 to utility scams in October

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Posted at 6:31 AM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2021-03-17 17:06:18-04

BALTIMORE — Since March, utility shutoffs in Maryland have been on hold due to emergency actions by the governor and Maryland Public Service Commission, however, terminations were able to resume on Monday.

More than a million customers have fallen behind on their utility bills, according to data provided to the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), and scammers are capitalizing on the high number of arrearages and restart in terminations.

In October of 2019, BGE received 106 reports scam attempts. Eight were successful resulting in customers losing $722.

This October, there were 1,952 reported scam attempts with 93 successful and $70,349 in reported customer loss.

“The problem now is that a lot of these con artists have become very sophisticated and when you receive these calls it sounds like it’s coming from Pepco or from BGE. And especially if you have a past due balance, then you’re afraid and you’re willing to pay on the spot or surrender your social security information or personal financial information,” said Maryland PSC Chairman Jason Stanek.

On this Utility Scam Awareness Day, BGE is partnering with the Maryland PSC to remind customers to be on the lookout for imposters using energy-related scams to steal money and personal information.

"Anytime you get a call stating that it’s an immediate request that you make a payment or you'll be shut off that is most likely a scam,” said Chimaobi Chijoke, director for customer care with BGE.

Currently, the most prevalent scam calls are robocalls where customers are asked to “press 1” to hear about their bill and make a payment. Once the number 1 is pressed, a live person gets on the line and demands immediate payment or personal information.

BGE is also aware of calls where scammers claim, “Your meter needs to be switched out immediately or your power will be turned off.” These claims are followed by a demand for immediate payment using
Cashapp, Bitcoin, Zelle or Green Dot with some of those calls end with the scammers texting a barcode to the customer for immediate payment.

BGE said they will never demand immediate payment, personal information like your account number, driver’s license or social security number, nor will they accept gift cards, payment apps or Green Dot.

“BGE has never accepted Green Dot and will not accept Green Dot,” said Chijoke.

And while shutoffs can resume, the Maryland PSC said this is the utility’s very last option. Many have set up payment plans and programs, and should you receive a termination notice, it’ll be 45 days in advance.

As far as another moratorium in the near future, Chairman Stanek isn’t ruling it out.

“If the situation regarding the pandemic changes or deteriorates substantially, the PSC will revisit the expiration of the moratorium,” said Stanek.

There are winter restrictions as well where utilities can’t terminate services if it’s 32-degrees or below.

If you have any questions or concerns about whether or not the person on the phone is who they say they are, hang up and call BGE at 1-800-685-0123.

Below are tips provided by BGE to help customers avoid scams:

  1. BGE will never come to a customer’s home or business to:
    1. Demand a payment.
    2. Ask for immediate payment with a prepaid cash card.
    3. Ask for their BGE account number or other personal information, such as a driver’s license number.
  2. BGE will never call a customer to:
    1. Ask for their account number.
    2. Ask for personal information such as their Social Security number or bank information.
    3. Ask them to make a direct payment with a prepaid cash card.
  3. To identify an actual BGE employee, remember:
    1. All BGE field employees wear clothing with the BGE logo, including shirt and safety vest.
    2. BGE employees and contractors visibly display a company ID badge with the BGE logo, employee’s name, and photo.