On Thursday, the company sent out a release urging residents to hang up the phone if such a call comes in and reminds everyone that no employee will ever demand immediate payment or account information over the phone nor does the utility use shutdown threats to collect payment.
The scam has been rampant across Rhode Island, with police departments in nearly every city and town fielding several reports of the scam each week. Fortunately, most customers are wary of such scams, but some fall prey. And in some cases, they come close to falling victim but come to their senses at the last minute — such as the case for one East Greenwich business owner.
And last week in East Greenwich, the folks at Richard's Pub got a scam call. Police said a hostess got the call and a woman named Jennifer claimed to be from National Grid.
Much like most of the calls, "Jennifer" said she needed immediate payment and if not, a disconnect order would be issued by the end of the day.
The hostess smartly took a message and told her manager who then called National Grid. It was then that she learned it was a scam and sure enough, their bill was up to date.
The manager contacted the state Attorney General's office as well as East Greenwich police.
The next day, the same scam reached Raku Sakura Restaurant on Main Street in East Greenwich.
In that instance, the caller claimed to be a Ron Stevenson from National Grid and what might seem troubling is the caller ID did return a National Grid number. It turns out that faking caller ID is surprisingly easy, which adds to the confusion when the scam calls come in.
In the case of Raku Sakura, the caller told the owner to get two $500 Green Dot cards and then call back to read the numbers over the phone to complete the transaction.
The scammer told the owners of the restaurant they were in arrears on their bill and a technician would be "arriving shortly" to turn off the power.
Combating the problem is tricky for area police departments because the callers are nearly impossible to trace and the money is usually sent by MoneyGram or other wire services, often to foreign countries.
In the case of the owner of Simon Says Cafe, it was when he was waiting in line at the nearby CVS and found out the "National Grid Employee" was ordering him to send money through the MoneyGram service that something wasn't right.
Sadly, not everyone catches the scam, especially business owners who are in fact behind on their utility bills. Scammers try to take advantage of people who are busy, under pressure and know that if they call hundreds of businesses with the same scheme, at least one person will send them money in desperation.
National Grid does contact customers with past balances due by phone to offer payment options. However, the company never demands direct payment over the phone.
One way to verify your speaking with a National Grid representative is to ask the caller for the last five digits of your National Grid account number. To verify information and for any billing-related questions for National Grid in New England, call the company’s customer contact center at 1-800-322-3223.