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SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of weeks ago, Bob Daskalakis received an unexpected phone call from a number that appeared to be from a company he regularly conducts business with.
What was more surprising about the call, he said, was the tone of the person on the other end of the line and the consequences the caller warned would happen if the small-business owner didn’t comply right away.
“They try to be very intimidating and tell you there has been a work order placed and a crew is en route to turn off your power because you have not paid your bill,” he said.
Daskalakis said he was confused at first, but soon realized that the call must be a scam.
“I know the utility companies don’t operate in that manner,” he said. “If you do, by chance, miss a payment, they notify you on your next billing statement.”
Daskalakis has owned the Greek City Grill for eight years and has run a number of other businesses over this 30-year career, and this was not the first time he’d received such a call.
“I’m pretty knowledgeable about these guys because I’ve dealt with them before,” he said, referring to con artists who call posing as a utility company demanding payment of a supposedly delinquent bill.
The Utah Division of Consumer Protection and Rocky Mountain Power said they continue to receive reports from local businesses about callers falsely claiming to be affiliated with the utility and threatening to cut their power if the business owners don’t pay immediately.
According to the reports, the callers utilize scare tactics to convince the customer the only way to avoid having their service shut off is to pay immediately, explained Dan O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.
“It seems crazy until it works,” he said. “Technology allows people to do this, and to a large extent do it in a way that’s not traceable.”
O’Bannon said the tactics include claiming a Rocky Mountain Power utility truck is on its way to the customer’s address to disconnect service. Scam callers often request payment via reloadable cards, but sometimes they ask for credit card information.
The scammers also sometimes use phone numbers with Utah area codes, and may have registered a phone number in such a way that “Rocky Mountain Power” appears on a customer’s caller ID, O'Bannon said.
Utah businesses are being specifically targeted, he said.
"Don’t fall victim to these blatant scammers,” warned Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Commerce Department. “If you have questions, contact your utility directly using the number on your bill.”
If business or residential customers receive such a call, they should hang up immediately and call Rocky Mountain Power at 1-888-221-7070, said utility spokesman Paul Murphy. It is the only valid customer service number for Rocky Mountain Power, he said.
"If you're behind on your bill, we will notify you and work out a payment plan rather than threatening to turn your power off immediately," he explained. "That's simply not the way we work."
Customers will be given many warnings before power is ever shut off, he said. "Truthfully, we do everything we can to work with customers to make sure their power stays on."
If a business or individual has sent money to a caller claiming to be from Rocky Mountain Power or would like file a complaint, contact the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.