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Scammers taking advantage of coronavirus fears; Dominion Energy offers tips to stay safe

Scammers are taking advantage of COVID-19 crisis by trying to rip off customers, Dominion Energy says.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Scammers are trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to take advantage some of people’s biggest fears.

Dominion Energy said scammers are offering customers discounts on their utility bills, but none of it is true.

"There is a special place for these people after they die, and it is not going to be heaven," said Maureen Karnbach. TThe old New Yorker in me really wanted to go off."

Karnbach lives in Woodbridge and snapped a picture from a phone call she got from a man claiming to be from Dominion Power, the former name for Dominion Energy.

Dominion Energy is a power utility company that services customers throughout Virginia.

"There was a gentleman who said to me, 'Since you’ve been a good customer, we're going to give you 30 percent off next month,'" Karnbach explained.

Charlie Clark, who lives in Arlington, got the same call.

"They said I'm eligible for an emergency subsidy because of the virus," Clark recalled.

He added that the scammers contacted him a second time using a different tactic.

"They said my power would be cut off in 30 minutes if I didn’t pay my late bill. Of course, my bill was not late," Clark said.

The calls have been disguised by making Dominion Energy’s help number appear on your caller ID.

"We do have a lot of concerns at Dominion Energy when it comes to these scam calls," Dominion Energy spokeswoman Peggy Fox said.

She said the potential scammers tried targeting her household several times.

"I kept asking the guy, 'What do you mean you're going to offer a discount?" Fox explained.

Dominion Energy said there are some things you can look out for.

"They used the old company name, Dominion Power. We are Dominion Energy. So, that’s your first clue it is a scam," Fox advised.

She said the utility will not call customers to demand immediate payments, or threaten to cut off their power during the coronavirus crisis.

According to the company's website, signs of potential scam activity include:

  • Aggressive threats to disconnect service (usually within an hour or less).
  • Insistence on immediate payment over the phone.
  • Request for a pre-paid debit card or credit card to be used for payment over the phone.

You can protect yourself and your friends and family by remembering:

  • Never purchase a pre-paid card to avoid shut off. The company says it will not insist on just one type of payment. Pay in-person, online through your account, or at a designated payment center. Here are all the payment options.
  • Verify what you're being told about your account. Hang up and call Dominion Energy, or sign into your online account to confirm whether or not a payment is due, not any other number given to you.
    • North Carol and Virginia: 866-366-4357
    • West Virginia: 800-688-4673
  • Collect information from the scammer, such as phone numbers or names, to help Dominion Energy and law enforcement track and spread the word to others.
  • Report suspicious calls, texts and email to Dominion Energy and local authorities to help prevent you or others from being another victim.

Fox added it is also important to spread the word to seniors who may be more susceptible to falling for the scam.

"Call your parents. Call your grandparents. Tell them to never give personal information over the phone," she said.

Dominion Energy said the scam calls have been happening all over the state.

The best thing you can do if you have questions or a call seems shady, is to hang up the phone and call Dominion Energy directly.

Dominion Energy is working with law enforcement to track down where the calls are coming from and who the people are behind them.

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