Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A New Scam Has Hit Huntsville

Huntsville Utilities downtown office - if in doubt about a bill,
go straight to this office...not some other payment location!
by Glenni Lorick, IBCLC

I got scammed out of $400 yesterday. I'm embarrassed. I feel stupid. I cried with anger, frustration and hurt when I realized what I had done. Our culture at ANM is to serve and give, so it grieves my spirit deeply that I allowed this to happen to me. But I really want to make sure that YOU don't fall for this!

The Call

At about 11:10 yesterday I received a phone call purportedly from Huntsville Utilities saying they were in route to cut off my power. I told them I had just paid my bill, and it wasn't late. They said that they had sent 3 notices about my account being tagged because I was late on payments twice last year, so they were requiring a $500 deposit. I responded that I hadn't received anything at all from them about this; I was really upset by this point. So the caller said he was transferring me to his supervisor.

A few seconds later "Jason Williams" got on the line and said that he was indeed the supervisor in charge of my account. He had signed off on three letters to me, and because I hadn't responded, I was scheduled for cutoff at noon. I told him there was no way I could leave the store to pay in time, and asked if I couldn't just do it online. He replied that online payments take 24 hours to process, so I had to make an immediate cash payment. 

I was starting to panic at this point. I knew I had to go to the hospital for my Monday afternoon shift later in the day and didn't want the store to be without power. I didn't remember being late with payments, but since I pay online I thought maybe they had been credited late or something. It was awful! In response to my distress, Jason said that he would delay the cutoff until 12:30, but couldn't delay any longer. He also reduced the amount to $400, but insisted I had to go pay it so that I would have a reference number to give the cutoff crew when they showed up. (after I paid, he said he was calling them off)

These crooks want to take advantage of Huntsville!

He told me the nearest place to pay was the CVS on Whitesburg. He told me to go in and pick up the red phone then call him back so he could give me my meter number. I locked the store, put a sign on the window and ran to the bank to get the cash, then headed to CVS. I actually thought about just going straight to the Utility office, but was concerned that might take too long, and I had to get back to the store.

The Red Flags

Huntville Utilities will never ask for a Moneygram
If I hadn't been is such a state of panic, I would have seen the bright red flags at every turn. But that is part of their game...they get you into a panic. I have heard and seen reports of scams and wondered how in the world people could possibly fall for them...now I know...the caller plays on your emotions, and in this case, my concern for my business. In fact, I suspect that this scam may be directed at small business owners.

When I pulled up at CVS, I thought it was odd that there wasn't a sign saying this is a place to pay Huntsville Utilities. But I wasn't thinking clearly because I was just so relieved that I was getting my payment in before cut-off time. The red phone was a Moneygram phone. If I had been thinking right, I would have know right away that I was being scammed. But I was so confused about everything. When I called Jason back, the number answered just like Huntsville Utilities. They had pretty much copied the Huntsville Utilities phone message. 

The next red flag should have been when he said Rushcard. At first I just thought that meant the payment was being rushed. After I made the payment Jason told me it would be credited back to my account in 6 months after I had clear payment history. He further told me that he was now my contact at Huntsville Utilities, so any time I have a question, I should just call him. 

The Sickening Realization

If somebody asks you to go find the
red phone, STOP and call police!
It wasn't until about 3 hours later that I realized I had been scammed. I looked up the Huntsville Utilities number (sure enough, it wasn't the number "Jason" had given me) and called them only to find out that I had been taken for a ride. The kind representative at Huntsville Utilities told me to file a police report, so I headed to the police station where I sobbed my way through my report. I'm sure the officer who took my report probably thought I was a nutcase, but he was very understanding and responded that this was a new twist on an old scam. He even made me feel better by saying he understood how I fell for it.

I want to get the word out immediately to every media outlet in the Huntsville Utilities service area because I don't want anyone else to get scammed like I did! Please share this blog with every small business owner you know. These crooks have obviously purchased an 800 number that as of today is still functional and answering as Huntsville Utilities, 800-345-0597. So they are trying to take advantage of us here in Huntsville. HELP STOP THEM NOW!!!!

7 comments:

  1. Today they tried again! I didn't fall for it this time!! Instead I called Huntsville Utilities at 256-535-1200. Of course I didn't owe anything. The number the scammers gave this time was 888-480-7650 and "Mark Waters" was the person I spoke to.

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  2. you moron when you put it up on a website like this how is the police suppost to try and trap them into triangulating their position they will see this and know the jig is up!

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    Replies
    1. I had contacted the police well before I wrote this. Yesterday, I called the police again about this. The reason I put this up on a website like this is to help other people know that this scam is currently happening. The police believe they are using burner phones, and honestly, the chances of catching them are very low. So the best thing we can do is warn others. Thank you for your kind input, though.

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