LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- PSEG Long Island is urging residents and business owners to make themselves aware of the tactics scammers use to try to steal their money amid a recent uptick in the number of reported phone scam attempts.
Officials say the phone scammers have become more prolific and sophisticated in recent years, and in many cases, the scammers can modify their caller ID to read "PSEG Long Island."
More than 6,600 calls were reported to PSEG Long Island in 2019, up from 4,088 scam calls reported in 2018.
Bruce Sackman, of Plainview, was stunned when he got a voicemail last week from what he thought was PSEG informing him his power was going to be turned off because he was three months behind on his payments.
"I said holy cow, PSEG Long Island, I always pay my bill," he said.
He says a cordial, professional-sounding man told him he had to pay $600 immediately or his power was going to be turned off. Sackman said he asked the representative if this was a scam.
"Oh no, Mr. Sackman, this isn't a scam," Sackman said the representative told him. But he persisted.
"I said to him again, 'Are you sure this is not a scam?'" he said. "And then he hung up. I felt really violated."
Sackman says if he almost fell for it, anyone could.
"I'm a retired federal agent, I'm a licensed private investigator, I authored two books on criminal investigations, I should know better," he said. "I was actually believing this for a minute."
PSEG Long Island reported an increase in the number of scam calls in recent weeks, but officials believe their awareness campaigns have made customers more alert.
In 2015, 8.2% of the total number of reported calls resulted in customers losing their money. Since 2018, that number is down to 5%.
"Phone scammers want their targets to panic so they don't think clearly," Vice President of Customer Operations Rick Walden said. "If you receive a call about a past-due bill, don't panic. Look for signs that it may not be legitimate, such as a request for a specific payment type or an imminent threat of disconnection. Our representatives will never demand immediate payment and, though we offer a variety of payment options, they do not include pre-paid debit cards or bitcoin. Additionally, if a customer is scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment, they will receive written notice on their bill at least 10 days in advance."
What to look out for:
--You receive a call from what looks like PSEG Long Island on your caller ID.
--The caller threatens to shut off your service and demands an immediate payment by pre-paid card, wire transfer or bitcoin.
--The caller informs you that you require a new meter and demands a deposit before the installation can occur.
--You're given a phone number to call back that, when called, may sound similar to PSEG Long Island's automated call system.
PSEG Long Island will never ask for a pre-paid card, wire transfer or bitcoin. Scammers ask for them because they are untraceable.
What to do:
--Hang up. Do not provide any personal or account information.
--Call PSEG Long Island at 1-800-490-0025. Never call any number the scammer gives you.
What PSEG Long Island will and won't discuss over the phone:
--A genuine PSEG Long Island representative will ask to speak to the Customer of Record.
--If that person is available, the representative will explain why they are calling and provide the account name, address and current balance.
--If the Customer of Record is not available, the PSEG Long Island representative will not discuss the account at all and ask that a message be left for the Customer of Record to call 1-800-490-0025.
PSEG Long Island also cautions customers to beware of scam emails that appear to be bills from the utility. These emails request personal information that could lead to identity theft.
PSEG Long Island does not ask customers to provide personal information online without first logging into the My Account section of its website. Never provide any personal information requested by email. Do not download any attachments, and do not click on any links in the email. Instead, open a browser window, visit PSEGLINY.com and log into My Account to get accurate account information, or call PSEG Long Island customer service.
Any customer who has doubts about the legitimacy of a call or email -- especially one in which payment is requested -- should call the PSEG Long Island directly at 1-800-490-0025 or visit a PSEG Long Island Customer Service Center. Service Centers are open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with locations listed on customer bills and online.
For more information on various payment scams in the PSEG Long Island service area and around the country, visit PSEGLINY.com/scam.