Stop scammers and phishers in their tracks
They’re scammers. They’re phishers. They’re crooks.
And as technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the bad guys.
They have seemingly come in waves this summer. First, there was a phone scam from callers pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service. The caller claims to be from the IRS, demanding payment on an overdue balance — which, of course, the taxpayer does not owe.
On top of that, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) warned about a phishing scam that targets tax preparers themselves. The culprits send emails to tax professionals that purport to contain important software updates, but actually infect their computers with malware.
Then last week, the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative issued a warning about scammers attempting to steal from SMECO customers. According to Tom Dennison, managing director of government and public affairs for the cooperative, thieves “frequently prey on the elderly and people who speak English as a second language. But lately, businesses have been targeted.” Since businesses generally have higher electric bills than residential customers, they’re more attractive to scammers looking for a bigger payday.
In one incident, Dennison said, a business owner in Southern Maryland received a call, telling him his power would be cut off within an hour if he did didn’t make a payment. He “was focused on a major event he was preparing for, and he became alarmed,” Dennison said. “Rather than taking a few minutes to contact SMECO directly to check his account, he made a payment over the phone to the fraudulent caller.”
Bogus callers can make the name of the utility appear on a customer’s caller ID. Scammers have also improved their ability to duplicate voice recordings. “Some … are pretty convincing,” Dennison said. “A scammer who provided a call-back number even used voice prompts that were recorded from SMECO’s phone system.”
So what’s a person to do to keep from getting robbed over the phone or computer? Franchot says the IRS never calls people demanding payment.
And Dennison said SMECO has a specific protocol for contacting customers. He guarantees that any unknown caller who gives an urgent deadline and threatens to cut off electricity within an hour or two does not work for SMECO. The utility will always mail a termination notice if payment is past due. Dennison said SMECO calls customers who owe a past-due balance using an automated phone system with a recorded message. Furthermore, he said, before service is terminated, a SMECO collector will knock on the customer’s door first.
As always, a little common sense goes a long way to ward off scammers and phishers. Don’t give out personal or account information, user names or passwords to unauthorized callers or emailers. And never agree to meet a caller or emailer at a bank or store to discuss a bill or payment.
If you’re in doubt about the legitimacy of a call about electrical service, hang up and call SMECO’s 24-hour contact center at 1-888-440-3311, or see smeco.coop/stop-scams. Those who suspect an IRS scam should call 1-800366-4484 or see www.irs.gov/uac/ report-phishing.
Be smart. Be careful. Stop the crooks before they can start.