GRETNA, LA (WVUE) - The FOX 8 Defenders have heard from small business owners who say scammers are impersonating utility companies and threatening to disconnect their electricity.
At the Hamilton Jewelry Company in Gretna, owner Rick Hamilton and his small team of employees specialize in watch repairs and custom jewelry design work. Hamilton's bustling small business has been a fixture on Lapalco Boulevard for more than 30 years.
"Actually, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, it's on. That's when we're the busiest," Hamilton said. A recent phone call he says threatened to disrupt his sales.
"They (the caller) were telling me that they were with Entergy, and they were with the disconnect department, and that they had somebody on the way over to the store to disconnect our electricity. It's like well, wait a minute, I pay my bill on time every month," Hamilton said.
According to him, the caller sounded professional and even knew his personal information.
"They knew my account number for Entergy and everything," he said. "The guy's telling me, well, I have to pay the full amount right now or they gonna disconnect us, and that they've already sent me two prior notices and they hadn't gotten a response."
Hamilton double checked his Entergy bill, which clearly showed his payment was received and his balance was $0.
"I'm thinking somebody dropped the ball, and that's what I told the guy. I said, 'Well, can I make a payment over the phone?' 'No, you gotta go to the nearest pharmacy and you have to pay in cash,'" he said.
Hamilton said he was told he would be given a code once he got there, but Hamilton then realized the situation wasn't making sense.
Another red flag was raised when the caller told him he owed more than $500, but couldn't explain what that amount covered. Hamilton hung up and called the number on his actual Entergy bill, but the representative didn't know anything about a disconnection.
"At that point, I called the guy, and I just ripped him a new one, alright? And then he said, 'Alright cowboy, calm down.' And I'm thinking, this is not Entergy for sure, you know?" Hamilton said.
That's when he called the FOX 8 Defenders.
"I don't want anybody else going through what I did. It burned up half my day, got me really frustrated and aggravated," explained Hamilton.
"A lot of people fall for it. Unfortunately, they do," Manal Sheikh said.
She told the FOX 8 Defenders that her father's business was targeted by the same utility scam.
"We do not call customers to threaten to disconnect. We will mail a disconnect notice or provide one through their online accounts they provide. We want them to hang up immediately and not even entertain whoever is on the other end of the line," Entergy Public Affairs Manager Toni Green-Brown said.
According to Green-Brown, this is a national scam across all utilities, including electric, gas and water. Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, just this week launched a nationwide effort to raise awareness focused on exposing the tactics these scammers use.
We tried calling the 1-800 number the scammer provided to Rick Hamilton, but it's no longer in service. When Hamilton tried, he said a recording played a message for a Southern California electric company, and the next day, the recording was for Entergy again.
To check the status of a bill, Green-Brown said never dial the number the scammer provides. Call the utility directly. In this case, it's 1-800-Entergy. You can also check your Entergy account online or through the Entergy app.
The following are signs to look for to recognize a potential scam:
- Scammers call consumers demanding payment, usually within the hour.
- They do it using sophisticated spoofing technology to replicate the company name and number on your caller ID.
- They direct you to transfer funds electronically, sometimes through a money wire or pre-paid debit card, and they usually ask for the receipt and pin number, giving them instant access to your money.