7 On Your Side warns scammers asking for Bitcoin payment for utility bills amid heat wave

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Friday, July 22, 2022
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7 On Your Side says utility customers are receiving QR codes via text and threats to pay up or have their AC and lights go off. Nina Pineda has the story.

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Scammers are seizing on the heat wave and tricking local business owners into paying bogus bills using Bitcoin.

7 On Your Side says utility customers are receiving QR codes via text along with threats to pay up or have their AC and lights go off.

Needing to keep $7,000 worth of imported Italian cheese cool cost Terra Foods owner Sabbia Auriti $1,000 in cold hard cash.

"'We are from PSE&G,'" she said she was told. "'We have your account number. We know that you have money owed to PSE&G. You have 30 minutes to before we shut you down.'"

With 100 customers waiting for Buffalo mozzarella, it was a risk the small business from Fairfield, New Jersey, couldn't take.

"If I have only 15 minutes left and they're going to cut my electricity, what am I going to do with my orders," she said.

In Linden, the owner of K&J Customs Auto Body, Yefry Placencia-Arias, was getting the same threat.

"They're going to cut the electricity right away," he said.

Both customers of PSE&G were sent a phony QR code, complete with the utility logo.

Both were instructed to scan it and feed cash into Bitcoin machines nearby to keep their electricity on. But instead, the money went to scammers in seconds.

"$3,000," Placencia-Arias said. "I'm a little bit nervous."

The bill balance for his custom detail shop was $6,000, and now, he's in the hole $9,000.

A dry cleaner down the street from the auto body shop says he gets a call from imposters claiming they'll shut him down once a month. Now, he tells the scammers to come on down and turn off the electricity.

"PSE&G will never threaten to turn off your electric service immediately," company spokesperson Rebecca Mazzarella said. "There are many parts of communication that go on before we would turn off someone's service because of non-payment."

She reminds customers that utilities don't accept Bitcoin or gift cards for payment.

"Scammers are getting really smart, so they're going to use any angle, any hook to victimize people out of money," she said.

Never call back a number you've been called from, which will be set up to sound like your utility. Instead, hang up and always call the number on your bill.

ALSO READ | Tips to beat the heat, where to find cooling centers as temperatures rise across New York City area

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