Columbia County Public Utility Districts (PUDs) are warning customers of a renewed and threatening telephone scam.

Phone Scam Alert

The callers say a customer’s electricity will be shutoff if immediate payment isn’t made.

“Over the past week we have had several customers alert us that someone is calling them, saying they had 15 minutes to pay the money demanded or their power would be shut off,” Clatskanie PUD’s Sarah Johnson said. “It is very threatening.”

Columbia River PUD’s Kyle Boggs said his agency is also taking calls from customers about the phone fraud.

“We hear about scam calls going around pretty regularly. In fact, we received a handful of reports just yesterday (Tuesday),” he said.

According to Boggs, the scam calls have continued to become more sophisticated.

“One customer said she was told by the scammer that she’d be transferred to an automated system where she could punch in her credit card information,” he said. “Scammers also use Caller ID to their advantage. They have spoofed our name, so that when their call appears on a customer’s phone it shows up as Columbia River PUD from a local phone number.”

Boggs agrees with Johnson’s description that the current fraud calls are threatening.

“Typically, scammers will threaten customers with immediate disconnection of their power if they don’t make a payment,” he said. “Sometimes they request prepaid credit cards or gift cards, which is something we do not do.”

In fact, both PUDs issue letters and work closely with customers to deal with any payment issues.

“We have a very definite process with letters and a reminder phone call,” Johnson said. “And we ask that they call back to our main phone number. We would never call and say you need to pay us immediately,” Johnson said.

“If a customer is actually facing disconnection, we will reach out to them multiple times in different ways before actually disconnecting their power,” Boggs said. “We do not disconnect someone immediately. We offer ways to work with our customers to make payment arrangements as well.”

Both Boggs and Johnson urge customers to not to be deceived by the fraud calls.

“Any time a customer has the slightest bit of doubt about the authenticity of a call, they should hang up and call us directly,” Boggs said. “We won’t take offense if they hang up on us inadvertently in an attempt to stay safe from a scammer.”

Johnson said the scam calls “come in spurts.”

“It’s been about six months since the last one,” she said. “They target different areas. There will be a big rash of calls and then it dies down and then there are more such fraud calls.”

According to Johnson, there have been customers who have lost money through the fraud calls.

“In the past, there have been times that people have paid the scammers and there could be more who have just not admitted they were victims,” she said.

Johnson and Boggs urge customers to call law enforcement if they have been an actual fraud victim.

The fraud calls aren’t limited to public utility companies. In February 2020, the St. Helens Police Department (SHPD) issued a warning about persons making similar threatening phone calls.

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