Houstonians fall victim to electricity scheme

By Amy Davis, Investigative Reporter/Consumer Expert, adavis@kprc.com
Published On: Oct 10 2013 10:09:12 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 10 2013 10:40:58 PM CDT

Oct. 10, 2013: We're actually hearing for the first time, audio from unsolicited and misleading phone calls that local energy companies say are duping customers across the Houston area. Amy Davis reports.

HOUSTON -

We're actually hearing for the first time, audio from unsolicited and misleading phone calls that local energy companies say are duping customers across the Houston area.

Consumer expert Amy Davis talked with one woman who got a bad feeling about one of those calls and recorded the whole thing.

At lunch time The Cajun Stop is so busy, there is no stopping. But owner Lisa Carnley couldn't ignore a recent phone call in the middle of the lunch rush from a man claiming to be with the Service Interruption Department. He told her that her electricity bill was past due.

"'We're sending someone out there at 1:30 to cut off your electricity, so what you need to do is make a payment right now," Carnley told Davis what the caller said.

With a restaurant packed full of patrons Carnley was ready to pay, so she asked for directions. She explained to Davis what the man told her.

"It sounds like we're having issues with your bank account, so what you need to do is go down to CVS or a Walgreens and get a Green Dot debit card... and go out there for the amount of $480 to keep your electricity on."

"We've had a number of customers call us and say they've actually fallen victim to this scam," said Reliant Energy's Pat Hammond.

Hammond says the scheme has picked up over the last two weeks.

"And we want to warn people, "Please, if you have any doubt, call us before you make any payments. We are also glad to confirm the status of your account."

That's exactly what Carnley did. Then she called police, and then she called the con artist back and got his spiel on tape.

"This is the Service Interruption Department that provides services to companies like Reliant, Affordable Energy, Spark, Green Mountain and all the electric suppliers in the state of Texas. Once you fall into this department, you are ready to be released and your service is ready to be cut off."

We checked. None of those companies are affiliated with the so-called Service Interruption Department. Police say once victims give up the number on those debit cards, their money is gone for good.

"They get these cards and order stuff online and then that's it... it's not traceable because they're debit cards," said Carnley.

If you get one of these calls, hang up and call your electric company directly to check your balance. None of the power companies will ask you to pay with a pre-paid debit card.

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