PSEG Long Island held a press conference last week after what they call a “recent uptick” in reported phone scam attempts. Among those recently affected by the scams is Plainview resident Bruce Sackman, who reached out to PSEG to help spread awareness of the issue.
“I was coming home from work when I looked at my answering machine and there was a message on there,” said Sackman. “It said ‘You are in arrears for three months for not paying your utility bill. If you don’t pay it immediately, PSEG will come out tomorrow and turn off your power.’ And then it had this message that I think I heard before that said ‘thank you for being a customer for PSEG.’ It sounded very real to me.”
Sackman noticed that it had a 1-800 number, which further convinced him that this was a real call. Thinking that he may have forgotten to pay the bill, he called the number back.
“I call the number and the fella on the phone sounds exactly like you would expect someone from PSEG to sound,” said Sackman. “He actually sounded pretty professional. He said ‘I see from your phone number that you are Bruce Sackman’ and he gave my address. He gave something that sounded like my PSEG account number. I didn’t have my bill in front of me to verify. Then he said, ‘We’re sorry, Mr. Sackman. We have to shut off your power tomorrow because the account is three months in arrears.’ That’s impossible. How can that happen? I always pay my bill the moment it comes in.”
The individual claiming to be PSEG then said to Sackman that they have been sending him notices and also a package in the mail letting him know about his debt, but Sackman said he had not been getting any mail or packages. But Sackman remained convinced that he didn’t pay his bill.
“I started thinking maybe I did screw up,” said Sackman. “I then went to my phone to check my account and I see the last three months of payments were actually paid up and posted. Then I came to my senses and thought is this some sort of scam?”
The caller denied that it was a scam, but after Sackman pressed him a few times on it, he hung up.
“After he hung up on me, I was really angry with myself for going along that far with it,” said Sackman. “It goes to show that anyone can be scammed. In fact, I was talking to an administrative assistant that I work with about it and she said her grandma got caught on this scam.”
Robert Vessichelli, a lead investigator with PSEG Long Island Security, said that the scam dates back to August 2013. Since then, more than 16,000 scam calls have been reported, with more than 900 victims falling for the scam (about a 5.4 percent victim rate).
“This is a nationwide scam,” said Vessichelli. “These scammers usually ask customers to pay with a pre-paid debit card, such as a Green Dot MoneyPak card or a vanilla reload card. Then from there, they’ll give them a call back number. The reason they do that is there is a scratch off number on the back of the card that reveals a number. So the scammer wants you to call them back and give them the number on the back of the card. Once they have that number, the money goes from the card into their account.”
Vessichelli urges customers to know what their balance is and remember what you owe. He also says that PSEG will never take prepaid debit cards as a form of payment, nor do they take wire transfers or bitcoin, which is requested by some scammers.
“What customers should know is that these scammers also spoof our number,” said Vessichelli. “When they get a call, it may show up as PSEG Long Island and our phone number on their caller ID. They are actually calling from another number. Basically, when in doubt, call the number that is on your bill or go into your “My Account” app. You’ll be able to determine your balance and other information.”
If you get a call from someone claiming to be PSEG that you believe is a phone scam, PSEG says do not provide any personal or account information, hang up and call PSEG Long Island at 1-800-490-0025. Visit www.psegliny.com/scam for more information on how to avoid being tricked.