Scam targets small businesses in Snohomish County
Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD), the FBI Seattle Division and the Everett Police Department join in advising PUD customers to be aware of a new telephone scam that demands immediate payment for allegedly past-due utility bills.
In recent weeks, scammers have been calling small businesses, fraudulently representing themselves as PUD employees. The callers tell the small business owner or employee that their utility account is past due and that their power will be disconnected shortly unless they send immediate payment. Callers instruct the owner/employee to purchase Green Dot “money paks” at a local convenience store or to provide their credit card or bank account information. These instructions are a scam and the funds are not being used to pay a utility bill. Instead, the scammers remove the monetary value from the purchased money paks or use the provided financial information to steal funds.
“Snohomish PUD never calls customers to request financial data or credit card information over the phone,” said PUD Communications and Marketing Director Julee Cunningham. “When in doubt, call the utility for verification to prevent potential scams.”
Everett Police Department and Snohomish PUD have received at least a dozen reports of this scam. The FBI is aware of this scam targeting business owners throughout parts of Washington, including the greater Seattle area, and in other parts of the United States, such as Oregon, New York, and Maryland. The scam frequently targets business owners of minority ethnic heritage.
If anyone receives a call demanding money for a utility bill, they should not provide any type of payment or financial information.They should report the call to their local utility company—in Snohomish County, the Snohomish PUD at 425-783-1000 — and provide any pertinent information gathered about the call. Examples of information that could be helpful are a phone number displayed on Caller ID, a name given by the caller, and specific demands made by the caller. Reports of this scam may also be provided to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), at www.ic3.gov.
Filing a complaint through IC3’s website allows analysts from the FBI to identify leads and patterns from the hundreds of complaints that are received daily. The sheer volume of complaints allows that information to come into view among disparate pieces, which can lead to stronger cases and help zero in on the major sources of criminal activity. The IC3 then refers the complaints, along with their analyses, to the relevant law enforcement agency for follow-up.
“It is an unfortunate reality in today’s world that we have individuals who constantly look for ways to exploit and take advantage of others,” said Everett Police Department Chief Kathy Atwood. “Our citizens and business owners need to be aware of this scam and share the information with others. It is law enforcement’s goal to educate and inform our community and raise the level of awareness among our citizens to the point that these types of scams become unprofitable for the criminals.”
The public can learn about other common scams by visiting www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/frauds-from-a-to-z, and learn about ways to reduce their risk of being scammed: www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/internet_fraud. Guidance on handling Internet fraud is also widely applicable to scams perpetuated through phone calls.