Police and utility companies want people to be aware of a new scam in town.
Both Barrie Police Service and Alectra Utilities are cautioning the public, and in particular, business owners, to be mindful of immediate demands for payment for outstanding electric bills.
“It’s a new type of scam. We haven’t heard much of this before in the Barrie area,” said Jennett Mays, communications coordinator with Barrie police. “But once the numbers started ramping up, we wanted people to become more familiar with it.”
The scam involves a call to a small business with a persistent caller demanding upwards of $1,000 or $1,500 to pay the electricity bill immediately, or the electricity will be disconnected.
Police say they’ve asked for payment in the form of the cryptocurrency bitcoin, and it has worked.
“The bitcoin should be a red flag. But one person did deposit $500 into a bitcoin machine in Barrie,” said Mays.
Ashley Trgachef with Alectra Utilities agreed the odd form of bill payment is a warning, as is the timing.
“We’ll always give you notice if we’re going to disconnect your power because you haven’t paid your bill. We’ll always let you know in advance,” Trgachef said. “If someone’s threatening you and says they’ll cut you off within a half-an-hour range, it’s most likely a scammer.”
Trgachef said she expects an uptick in the number of scammer calls on the Labour Day long weekend because scammers realize how busy and distracted people – and small business owners – can be.
“They know they’re going to be more vulnerable because they need power to service their customers before a busy lunch hour or at a dinner rush,” she said.
On its website, Alectra notes:
Our credit department only makes calls Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
We do not have a disconnections department
We would never demand immediate payment using a pre-paid credit card, gift card, PayPal or Bitcoin.
We do not accept wire transfer payments
Barrie police say there are a few common signs to help determine if a call or email is a scam:
A sense of urgency
The scam may be encouraging you to take up the offer before time runs out, or it may be threatening you with a negative action if you don’t act quickly enough.
No matter how pressured you feel, there is always time to reach out for confirmation. No reputable company will penalize you for taking the time to verify their claims.
Asking for personal information
Just because someone who has reached out to you has some personal information about you, doesn’t mean you have to confirm any additional information.
If they claim to be from a known organization, reach out to that organization separately and confirm they were trying to contact you.
Police say if you have encountered a fraud attempt but have not lost any money or personal information, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. If you have lost money through fraud, contact the Barrie Police Service Fraud Unit at 705-725-7025 or report it online.
More information is also available on Alectra’s website.