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Utilities warn of scams

By Becky Bell
Nov. 19, 2017 at 11:50 p.m.

AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. and other utility companies are warning residents of scams — just one of the various types that Longview-area authorities see, from fake sweepstakes to people claiming to be police.

"Scammers are targeting local businesses, senior citizens and customers whose native language is not English," said Brett Mason, SWEPCO's director of customer service and marketing.

SWEPCO teamed with other electric, water and natural gas utilities and trade associations this past week in support of Utilities United Against Scams, a weeklong advocacy and awareness campaign.

Scammers pose as electric, water, or natural gas company employees, and they threaten a customer's services will be disconnected or shut off if immediate payment isn't made — typically using a prepaid card or other non-traceable form of payment, according to SWEPCO.

Gregg County Sheriff's Office spokesman Josh Tubb said his office "always is getting calls on different scams."

He said one that comes up from time to time is the Publishers Clearing House scam, which involves a person called and told he or she has won money. The person then is asked to send a prepaid card of some sort to supposedly pay taxes on the winnings or to pay for attorney's fees.

Tubb said he has seen some scammers find the name of a deputy online and then call someone and claim that person has a warrant for his or her arrest because of missed jury duty. Others call claiming to be the FBI and threatening an arrest for unpaid traffic tickets.

"The most troubling ones that we have had trouble with are those claiming to be from the Gregg County Sheriff's Office," Tubb said. "It is important to remember we do not take credit cards."

Tubb said in the past 10 years he has been with the sheriff's office, he has seen an increase in scams because of information that can be found on the internet. Tubb said it is important for people who are contacted to do research and ask for the name of the person calling, a supervisor's name and the organization he or she is with.

"Law enforcement are not debt collectors," Tubb said. "They are not going to call you on the phone and demand payment for credit cards or anything like that. And most folks know if they owe money to IRS ... the IRS is not going to demand payment over the phone."

Longview police spokesman Sgt. Shane McCarter said one of the biggest scams his department sees is people pretending to be contractors.

"They mainly target elderly folks and show up at their house promising to do something like repair the roof, and they want money up front, and that's the last time you see them," McCarter said.

It is important for residents needing a contractor to check references.

"In essence, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," McCarter said.



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