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Phone scam rings up bogus charges for Duquesne Light customers

| Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, 12:22 a.m.

Authorities warn of a rash of scams attempting to dupe consumers into paying bogus fees or infect computers with malicious email.

Cellphone users who receive a one-ring call and call the number back could be slapped with unauthorized charges and international fees on bills, the Better Business Bureau cautioned on Thursday.

The so-called “One Ring” scam can cost those who call back $19.95 for the initial call and $9 a minute, said Caitlin Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania.

Scammers program computers to make thousands of calls to random numbers, let the phone ring once and hang up, Driscoll said. The scammers hope people return the call so they can charge high fees for listening to music or advertising messages.

“If you receive a call from a number you do not recognize, do not answer the phone. Do not call them back unless they leave a message,” Driscoll said. “It's definitely a red flag if (the call comes from) an area code you do not recognize.”

Consumers reported numbers from the Caribbean, including Grenada (473), the Dominican Republic (809), Jamaica (876), the British Virgin Islands (284) and Antigua (268), Driscoll said.

“The best thing to do is, if you find you have become a victim, contact your cellphone service provider immediately and advise them that you think you've been scammed. The earlier it's detected, the more likely you'll be able to get all or some of the charges removed,” she said.

Duquesne Light spokesman Joey Vallarian said customers reported receiving calls threatening to shut off service if they didn't buy a pre-paid credit card to fulfill their balance.

“These things pop up from time to time, and then they go away. There's really no rhyme or reason to it,” Vallarian said.

Providing information to buy the pre-paid card is like handing over cash through the phone, he said, because the calls are untraceable.

“Once you give them that information, then it's gone,” he said.

Duquesne Light doesn't call customers on the day of a scheduled shutoff, nor does it ask people to purchase pre-paid credit cards, Vallarian said.

Customers who receive such a call should hang up, call Duquesne Light at 412-393-7100 and alert police.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts this month warned about an email scam in Washington County that can trigger malicious spyware that infects computers.

Court officials in Harrisburg say people should delete emails with the subject line “Notice to Appear in Court” or “Hearing of your case in Court.” Clicking on the attachments or links in the message can trigger the attack.

Consumers hit with Internet fraud can report complaints to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, said FBI spokeswoman Kelly Kochamba.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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