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Record year: 2018 sees highest number of attempts to scam BC Hydro customers

Last Updated Jan 18, 2019 at 11:05 am PDT

Summary

2018 saw the highest number of attempts to scam BC Hydro customers, the utility says

BC Hydro says scam artists left its customers out nearly $45,000 in 2018

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If a scammer posing as a BC Hydro employee tried to dupe you through text or a phone call last year, you’re not alone.

It turns out 2018 was a record year for scam artists ripping off the utility’s customers.

“Fraudsters posing as BC Hydro employees were actually 50 per cent more successful in 2018 than they were in 2017, and this resulted in them basically stealing about $45,000 from our customers, a number that we expect would actually be much higher if everyone reported being a victim of these scams,” Mora Scott with BC Hydro explains.

She says the scam involves a fraudster threatening to immediately disconnect a customer’s service if a payment is not made. They apparently reach out to the customer by phone, email, or text.

LISTEN: An example of a message left by a scammer, claiming to be with BC Hydro

 

In order to avoid having their power cut, the customer is asked to buy pre-paid cash or credit cards, or deposit money into a bitcoin ATM.

“Once the fraudsters have got a hold of this information, the money is basically gone, and in many cases our customers have been out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars,” Scott says.

She adds the utility has seen both businesses and residents.

“The fraudster often target restaurants during the lunch and dinner rush, so when there’s a lot happening at the restaurant and they can’t afford to lose business during that time. So I think that they tend to target people kind of at the perfect time where they would fall for something like this.”

In terms of the hardest hit areas around the Lower Mainland, Scott points out Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, and Surrey.

She believes the problem is actually bigger than it may seem.

“Since the scam surfaced several years ago, we have received about 6,000 reports — 2,000 of those were in 2018 alone. While these numbers are very significant, we know that they… likely under-represent the scale of the problem. We believe it’s much, much higher.”

An example of a scam email, threatening to shut off power if a payment is not made

Sample Scam Letter - Redacted

 

So what can you do to avoid falling victim to a scam? For one, Scott says the utility does not accept pre-paid cash or pre-paid credit cards, nor bitcoin as a payment.

“If a customer’s account is in arrears, BC Hydro will send numerous disconnection notices before the power is ever cut off,” she says. “If a customer ever feels weary of the type of phone call that they’re receiving, we encourage them to immediately hang up and to give us a call right back at 1.800.BCHYDRO.”

The scam, according to Scott, isn’t just isolated to B.C. She says fraudsters are targeting utility customers across North America.

-With files from Marcella Bernardo and Denise Wong