Marlboro County residents targeted in phone scheme

Marlboro Electric Cooperative has received many reports from Marlboro County citizens concerning phone scammers who are pretending to work for Marlboro Electric and demanding immediate payment to prevent service disconnection.

"Marlboro Electric does not contact citizens or customers asking them to share personal information over the phone. We will not contact you by phone, text or email to discuss the termination of service or ask you to share your account number or password," said John Powers, Manager of Information Systems and Public Relations.

"In addition, do not assume you can trust caller ID to let you know where the caller is located. Scammers are using new technology that disguises their actual location."

Citizens report that the phone scheme begins with a call by someone pretending to be an electric cooperative employee who warns the consumer that utility service to their home or business will be disconnected unless they receive payment immediately.

The scam callers instruct consumers to pay money instantly using a third-party pay system, such as a pre-paid debit card available at many local convenience stores and pharmacies, to avoid having their electricity disconnected.

The caller often instructs the consumer to provide the serial code listed on the card immediately or to call a toll-free number to deliver the serial code listed on the card. Once armed with pertinent information, scammers have effectively stolen the money.

Initial complaints suggested scam operators are systematically targeting small businesses, restaurants and Spanish-speaking consumers. However, the scam has been expanding from the beginning.

South Carolina cooperatives continuously warn the public of the phone scam through media outlets and have already turned to the state attorney general for action due to the large volume of complaints. S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has requested that the S.C. Law Enforcement Divisions (SLED) launch an official investigation into a scam targeting utility consumers by phone with a fraudulent scheme.

"It's imperative that we prevent these thieves from taking advantage of our consumer-members," said Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. "These are committed criminals who are preying upon some of our most vulnerable citizens."

Cooperatives are instructing members to call local law enforcement if they are contacted by someone suspicious asking for electric bill payment and threatening to disconnect service. If you receive a phone call saying your electricity is being disconnected, hang up and notify the local law enforcement.