SAN ANTONIO - When Cindy May’s phone rang last week, trouble was on the line.
An impostor claiming to be with CPS Energy was calling about her bill, a call that evolved into demands for payment and threats of cutting off her power.
“It was very scary because he sounded so professional and so real,” she said. “He said it was in default and a technician was on the way to my house at that time to disconnect my services.”
To keep the lights and air conditioner on, May would have to pay $2,000 on the spot by providing her debit account number. She was puzzled, though, because she’d just received her bill that showed she was current.
“He said, 'We need to have this money right now – $2,000,'” May said. “And I’m looking at the bill and asking, ‘What is going on?’”
What’s going on is fraud, and it’s escalating. Last year, CPS Energy reports, 1,799 customers reported that they were victims of scams and were taken for a total of $52,000. That’s a $20,000 increase over 2017.
Often, the victims in such scams are tricked into buying prepaid debit or gift cards and providing the codes on the backs.
The utility is now warning customers.
“What we want customers to know is that we don’t call them to threaten them to turn off their service. We don’t demand payment. We don’t say, 'We’re on our way to turn off your power,'” said John Moreno, CPS Energy spokesman.
In fact, Moreno said, the utility does not even accept payment over the phone.
Part of what makes the calls seem believable is that often, the call is spoofed. The caller ID is manipulated to show that CPS Energy is the caller. The automated message is even cloned to sound exactly like the real one.
If you receive a suspicious call, CPS Energy says you should hang up and call customer service directly at 210-353-2222.
The only time the utility does call customers is to remind them when their accounts are past due, according to Moreno.
As for May, she’s hoping no one falls for the ruse and loses their hard-earned money. She hung up on the caller, although she admits it was a close call.
“It sounded so real that if I’d had $2,000, I might have given him that information,” she said. “It’s very concerning. It’s very scary, and it’s real.”
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