West Penn warns of utility bill scam
West Penn Power in Greensburg is alerting customers to be aware of scammers who may try to trick them into paying fictitious bills this winter on the false pretense that electricity will be shut off.
FirstEnergy, the Ohio-based parent of West Penn Power and nine other utilities, said its companies have received more than 1,600 customer reports of scams, which is 200 more than reported last year. The actual number of scam attempts is even higher because many incidents go unreported to the company or law enforcement, FirstEnergy said.
While the scammers work throughout the year, they are more active in winter and summer, when customers are more concerned about losing their heat or air conditioning. FirstEnergy is joining with more than 100 electric and gas companies and related organizations to prevent customers from becoming victims.
“Scammers can be very convincing and often target our most vulnerable customers, particularly senior citizens,“ said Gary W. Grant, vice president of customer service for FirstEnergy Utilities in Akron.
FirstEnergy customers should be aware of the following information:
• Customers behind on their accounts receive written notices of a possible disconnection and how to prevent it. FirstEnergy representatives will not call or email to demand immediate payment to avoid a same-day shutoff.
• While FirstEnergy representatives often make courtesy calls to customers about an outstanding balance, they would explain how a payment can be made using the established payment options. They would never require a customer to purchase a pre-paid money card as the only way of making a payment.
• FirstEnergy employees do not ask for a customer’s personal information, such as social security numbers or bank account information.
• Scammers often use Caller ID spoofing software to misrepresent the source of a phone call to confuse their targets. Call-back numbers provided by these criminals often use greetings and hold messages that mimic legitimate businesses.
• Customers who suspect a scam should hang up the phone or close the door and call local police, then FirstEnergy.
When in doubt about a bill or to confirm the identity of a FirstEnergy employee, FirstEnergy customers should contact the company using the phone number listed on its website, Grant said. West Penn Power customers should call 1-800-686-0021.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .