PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Police in Monongahela are warning residents of a new scam involving callers pretending to be from West Penn Power.
The calls started on Wednesday in Monongahela, Washington County.
A person claiming to work for West Penn Power demanded a pre-paid card payment almost immediately, and the calls apparently spoofed a West Penn Power caller ID.
“They said that they received a call from West Penn Power, and West Penn Power said that unless they came up and paid $1,000, they were going to shut their power off,” said Monongahela Police Chief Brian Tempest.
Police recorded the authentic-sounding recording customers were hearing when they called the number given. That call then directed them toward Option 3, which put them in touch with someone who had instructions on how to make a pre-paid card payment.
“You went and got a pre-paid card, you called them back and gave them the number off of the pre-paid card,” said the chief. “Once you gave them the number off the pre-paid card you were scammed out of that money.”
Not long after, the local Dollar General store got a call from someone with a foreign accent asking about pre-paid cards. Officials also say a number of customers started coming into the store trying to buy pre-paid cards to pay their utility bills.
That raised a red flag, so the store manager took the pre-paid cards off the shelves sensing this was part of a scam.
“The manager said, ‘Hey, I have people lining up here to get pre-paid cards. Something’s not right. I pulled all my pre-paid cards.’ She was very observant and she probably saved at least three or four customers in line from being scammed,” said the chief.
Dollar General released this statement about the incident:
“Payment card fraud is a serious and growing crime that unfortunately affects consumers and retailers throughout the country. When we were made aware of this fraudulent activity, we issued an alert to all of our Pittsburgh–area Dollar General stores which prevented other customers from falling victim to this scam. Dollar General strives to be a trusted neighborhood general store and we work with authorities to help them identify, investigate and prosecute instances of fraudulent payment card activity.”
First Energy, the parent company of West Penn Power says they do not ask customers for prepaid cards as payment and that any call requiring immediate payment is a scam.
Also, they say if there was truly a disconnection of service pending, you would receive that notice in advance in writing.
Todd Meyers, spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., says, “If anyone ever calls you in the name of West Penn Power demanding immediate payment of an overdue electric bill or your electricity will be terminated within the hour, hang up immediately. That’s not us, it’s a scam. Terminating electric service for past-due accounts is a lengthy process that can last for months, and only something we’d do as a last resort after trying to negotiate a manageable payment plan. We must notify customers in writing, phone them and attempt to make an in-person contact before we can terminate their electric service. If you have any questions about the status of your account, phone 1-800-686-0021 and talk with our customer service representatives who will have your account information. Demanding payment via Green Dot or a similar pre-paid debit card is another telltale sign of a scam artist. West Penn Power does not accept this form of payment.”