You’ve probably seen reports on TV, various websites, or billboards warning against telephone scams, including where a caller targets utility customers and threatens to shut off their electricity within hours if they don’t make a payment. We now have a first-hand account from one of our lawyers describing how this happens. The lawyer will remain unidentified but his last name rhymes with “green.”
The lawyer received a call from a caller purporting to be from Dominion Energy. The lawyer was a bit suspect because the caller ID said “Possible Spam” or something similar. The caller was extremely polite but confident. He said that the electricity to the lawyer’s house would be shut off if in two hours unless the lawyer paid $312.33. The “unpaid amount” covered the cost and installation of a new smart meter. According to the caller, Dominion Energy had sent the lawyer at least six invoices and also termination notices. When the lawyer said he was current on energy bills and never received any bills other than what’s in the monthly bill, the caller said that Dominion Energy had been sending separate bills for smart meters because combining the smart meter charge with the monthly charges resulted in customer confusion.
The caller said he could not accept credit or debit card payments over the phone. The only way for the lawyer to avoid service termination was to go to a 7-Eleven, Walgreen’s, and perhaps one or two other stores and pay cash. Alternatively, the lawyer could go to Walmart, purchase a Walmart money card and have the cashier load $312.33 onto it. If he did that, the caller instructed, the lawyer should then exit the store and call the agent (who so nicely provided his name and number) and pay the $312.33 from the card over the phone.
And, for all this inconvenience, the caller said that the lawyer would receive one month’s worth of free electricity once payment is finalized.
When the lawyer said that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) had prohibited utility terminations due to COVID-19, the caller said that this was outside of the normal “nonpayment for usage” terminations since it involved a smart meter.
It all seemed too much to swallow. So, the lawyer said goodbye and called Dominion Energy’s customer service number, 866-366-4357. The Dominion Energy agent confirmed that no payment was due, that there are no charges other that what appears on the monthly bill, and that this was a scam.
Later, the caller phoned the lawyer to check in about the status of the payment. The lawyer told him he had learned that this was a scam and he would not be paying. The caller said that the lawyer’s electricity would be disconnected and that “a truck will arrive at your house in 35 minutes.” Twenty-four hours later, the lawyer reports that no trucks have arrived on his street and the power remains on.
Fortunately, the lawyer dabbles in energy law and knew a few things, such as:
- Telephone scams have increased during the COVID quarantine.
- Dominion Energy doesn’t have widespread smart meters. There are certain areas of the service territory where smart meters have been implemented, including parts of the City of Richmond, but not at the lawyer’s house.
- Dominion Energy doesn’t terminate service giving a few hours lead time. There’s a process and you’d receive various notices.
- The SCC prohibited service terminations a few months ago because of COVID-19, and just last week extended that Order through the end of August. There’s nothing in the SCC’s disconnect Order that says a utility can disconnect for one charge but not for others. It’s simply “no disconnects.”
- Dominion Energy accepts various forms of payment and does not require cash.
- You can pay your Dominion Energy bill at an authorized payment center. Those can be found at certain Walmarts, Krogers, etc. But, you pay the bill in the store. You are never required to load money onto a pre-paid card and then go sit in your car and call Dominion.
The lawyer was able to provide Dominion Energy with the caller’s phone number and name, and hopefully the authorities will find him.
If you have more questions about these shady practices, please visit Dominion Energy’s web page warning about scams. You can also visit the websites of Appalachian Power, Baltimore Gas and Electric, Pepco, and Delmarva Power. For questions about utility markets and consumer fraud, you may also contact any of our regulatory lawyers.