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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Phone Scam Targets SMECO Customers

Know What You Owe

Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative is issuing a warning to its customers to beware of scammers targeting residents in the region.

SMECO was recently alerted that some customer-members received phone calls from scammers identifying themselves as SMECO employees and demanding prepaid debit cards in order to avoid having electric service cut off.

“Scammers often target businesses. They have higher monthly bills and scammers will take advantage of that, claiming the business customer owes a large sum of money. Businesses may have more than one person authorized to pay bills, and scammers exploit the lack of communication between employees and business owners,” Tom Dennison, managing director of government and public affairs at SMECO, said.

To cause further confusion, scammers can make the name of the utility appear on a customer’s caller ID, and they have improved their ability to trick people by duplicating voice recordings and imitating utility phone systems.

“If customers receive a phone call from someone threatening to disconnect their power, they may hang up,” Mr. Dennison said. “If they want to verify account information, they can call SMECO directly. Our contact center is open 24 hours a day, every day. SMECO’s phone number is 1-888-440-3311, and it’s printed on every customer bill.”

The following describes SMECO’s routine for collecting payments from customers.

  • SMECO will mail a termination notice if a bill is past due.
  • SMECO calls customers who owe a past due balance using an automated phone system with a recorded message; rarely will SMECO employees make personal “collection” phone calls.
  • Collection calls are made about 10 days before service is to be terminated. SMECO does not require payment at the time of the call.
  • Unknown callers who give short deadlines and threaten to cut off service within an hour or two are probably running a scam.
  • SMECO does not make collection calls or terminate service on weekends or holidays.
  • If service is going to be terminated, a SMECO collector will knock on the customer’s door before turning off service.
  • SMECO collectors will accept credit card payments, checks, or money orders, but they do not accept cash.

SMECO has issued alerts when customers have notified the co-op that these scams are taking place. “Not only are scams a nuisance, but these crooks can steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting residents and businesses,” Mr. Dennison said. “We want to help prevent this type of crime by educating our customers whenever we hear about people being tricked out of their hard-earned money.”

For customers who believe they have received a fraudulent email or phone call, some basic guidelines follow:

  • Customers should use the phone number printed on their monthly bill and only give payment information over the phone if they initiate the contact.
  • Customers should not provide personal information, banking information, user names, passwords, or account information to unauthorized callers or in an email.
  • Customers should not provide Green Dot, Western Union, or Moneygram payments to unauthorized callers.
  • Customers should never meet unauthorized callers at a local store or bank to make a payment—their personal safety could be at risk.

To learn more about SMECO, visit its Leader member page.

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