Columbia Gas of Virginia ramps up efforts to protect customers from scammers

Photo: AP Image Graphics Bank

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Gas and electric utility companies are joining forces to protect customers from the long-running scam targeting customers of utility service providers.

The Utilities United Against Scams collaboration has designated November 16 as “Utilities United Against Scams Day.”

This day will be supported by a week-long campaign with content focused on exposing the tricks scammers use to steal money from customers, and how customers can protect themselves.

The collaborative encourages the public to share these messages to help guard against scam activity.

Under this scam, a customer receives an unsolicited phone call from an individual who falsely claims to be a Columbia Gas of Virginia representative. The scammer warns that Columbia Gas of Virginia will disconnect the customer’s natural gas service if the customer fails to make a payment – usually within a short timeframe.

Scammers have even duplicated the Columbia Gas of Virginia upfront Interactive Voice Response system, so when customers call back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate Columbia Gas of Virginia phone number.

Some of these criminals also use caller ID spoofing to replicate Columbia Gas of Virginia’s customer service number.

Red flags for scam activity:

• The thief becomes angry and tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn’t made – usually within less than an hour.
• The thief instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back to supposedly make a payment to Columbia Gas of Virginia.
• The scammer asks the customer for the prepaid card’s receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds.
How to protect yourself
• Columbia Gas of Virginia never asks or requires a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.
• Customers can make payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
• Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification with the regular monthly billing – never a single notification one hour before disconnection.
• If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, hang up and call the local police then Columbia Gas of Virginia. Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.
Customers who suspect or experience fraud, or feel threatened during contact with one of these thieves, should contact local authorities, and then the Columbia Gas of Virginia phone number listed on their bill.

Previous communications aimed to combat scammers and protect customers include bill messages and alerts, customer letters, online content and social media posts.

For more information visit the Columbia Gas of Virginia website to learn more.

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