Columbia warns against utility phone scam

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COLUMBIA - Columbia Police Department is warning people about a new phone scam.

The CPD released an alert on its Facebook page, saying the caller claims to be an employee with the city and tells residents they are behind on payment. Those called said the caller claims the utilities are at risk of being turned off within two hours if they do not receive payment. The caller then tells customers to make payment by credit card over the phone. 

Connie Kacprowicz, who works with Columbia Water and Light, said residents should know it's a scam by the phone call itself.

"Our staff does not take payment over the phone," Kacprowicz said. "Anyone that's representing themselves as the city of Columbia, asking for any kind of credit card numbers... that's not the way we do business."

She said the only way to make payments over the phone is through an automated phone system, not by an employee. The only way to pay city bills to an employee is at City Hall. 

"If you have gotten one of these types of phone calls and you have actually made a payment to a company that's not the real company, then you should notify the police department at their non-emergency number," Kacprowicz said. 

Kacprowicz said the scammers have gone so far as to get the caller ID to say "City of Columbia."

She said scammers so far as to get caller ID to say City of Columbia.

If you are a victim of a fraud, report it to a law enforcement agency.

Kacprowicz said these scams usually come around about twice a year and residents need to be aware.

Here are some tips she offered to try and avoid this scam and scams in the future:

  • Never send cash, money orders or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
  • If you call the number back that called you to verify the information and a recording picks up not stating the name of the company this is a scam.
  • Make a phone call to verify the information. A thirty second phone call can save you money.
  • Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question. "What guarantee do I have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?" \
  • Be skeptical - Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • If someone comes to your home claiming to be with a utility company, ask for identification. Do not let the person in your home.
  • If something doesn't seem right, it's not right.