Last week, OPPD saw a significant uptick in the number of scam calls reported by customers.
And a troublesome twist was included in some of the calls, one not seen before.
OPPD is always working to protect customers from falling prey to scam artists. The utility encourages customers to be vigilant, even skeptical, when they get a call from someone claiming to be with the utility or any similar entity.
“These scams are always changing, always evolving,” said Michelle Dearing, Customer Care coordinator at OPPD.
The most common, long-running con targets customers of utilities, both here and nationwide, with a phone call claiming customers are past due on bills and need to buy a gift card or pre-paid credit card of some sort to pay. Otherwise, the callers claim, power will be disconnected.
The new twist seen in the calls last week was the improper use of an existing OPPD voice message from an OPPD employee. The calls appeared to come from a variety of phone numbers, but all customers were urged to call back the same toll-free number. That number was not an OPPD phone number, and when customers called, they heard a stolen recording of an actual OPPD message. If customers responded to an option given in the recording, they were forwarded directly to scammers.
“We never call and ask for your payment,” Dearing said. “We would only ask a customer to call us if they were actually overdue on their bills to the point where service could be disconnected, and that would happen two days before a disconnection was to occur. That’s the only time we would call a customer.”
In addition to a call, OPPD would also mail the customer to alert them that their bill was past due and their service was scheduled to be disconnected.
Also, authentic utility representatives never request payment via a purchased payment card.
OPPD has seen an uptick in the number of scam calls to customers this month. There have been 95 scam calls, with 84 of those coming last week, Dearing said. Business customers received the majority of the calls.
There were only 11 calls in the first three weeks of the month. There were 14 in June and 13 in May. For the year, 273 scam calls have been reported and customers have paid more than $4,300.
Scammers typically add a sense of urgency to pressure customers into making the payments. Callers often tell customers that if they do not pay, their service will be disconnected in 30 minutes. In one recent case, a customer reported that scammers texted them and provided a bar code to use when paying at one of the stores where OPPD has partnered with MoneyGram. If that customer had made a payment using the bar code, the payment would have gone to the scammer.
MoneyGram is a service that OPPD partners with to allow customers to make bill payments at participating stores. Customers can make cash or debit card payments with a customer service representative at a participating location using their OPPD account number, after which they receive a receipt. OPPD does not text bar codes to customers to make payments.
Another recent scam offered a customer $2,000 for taking a survey.
“As a public power utility, offering that much money is something we would never do,” Dearing said. “Like most things, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
There have been occasions where OPPD has offered customers $25 to $50 gift cards as incentive for market research surveys.
Scammers will often strike after outages caused by storms, or they might try to take advantage of current events in their attempts. Such was the case when the pandemic began.
Below are more tips to protect customers from scams:
If you have questions or concerns about contact with someone claiming to represent OPPD, always call OPPD directly at 402-536-4131 in the Omaha calling area or 877-536-4131 outside of the Omaha area for assistance. Visit OPPD.com to learn more about payment options.
Subscribe and receive updates on the latest news and postings!