October 24, 2013 10:41:49 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Starkville Police Department issued a general warning this week asking residents to be aware of scam artists calling homes and businesses while posing as utility companies.
The police department has received at least three reports of scam artists calling locals and demanding credit card information or stating they would turn off their electricity. Starkville Electric Department General Manager Terry Kemp confirmed his organization does not demand over-the-phone payments from customers. A call placed to 4-County Electric Power Association officials was not immediately returned Wednesday.
It appears the scam is focused on Starkville residents, as Oktibbeha County Chief Deputy Chadd Garnett said his department has not received similar complaints.
With access to credit card numbers and their associated security codes, scam artists can commit fraud. It is believed the scammers never directly posed as SED representatives, but Kemp said they allude to an affiliation with a local utility company and begin hassling callers for information.
"I'd tell people if they think someone from Starkville Electric was calling them like that, then they need to call or come see us and ask questions," Kemp said. "(Customers said) they make demands or statements that seem inappropriate. We're not going to call and ask for someone's information or demand payments like that."
Starkville restaurateur and chef Ty Thames said one of his businesses received a call from the scam artists. A manager reported the incident to Thames, who then alerted officials.
"Basically, they said the power would be cut off within the hour if we didn't pay our bill," he said. "We're set up for automatic drafts, so I knew something was fishy with it. That can be dangerous for a business, because if they get an inexperienced manager, they might try to fix the problem, thinking they're doing
a job. In reality, they've given their money away then."
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood also alerted Mississippians to another scam pertaining to lotteries this week.
Hood's office said it involves promises of lottery winnings or bogus checks. In a release, the AG advised residents to ignore the scheme, saying, "If you have not entered into a lottery or sweepstakes, then it is unlikely you have won one."
"Lottery scams are reported to our office just about every day," Hood stated. "Cons will send out these checks hoping to convince the consumer into believing that they are getting a significant amount of money if they just cover a small amount of taxes or fees in return. We have even had reports that these crooks claim I am going to deliver the winnings personally. Although I liked Ed McMahon, I will not be delivering checks to people's homes.
"Wherever there is money involved, we find trying to steal it from those who most need it," Hood stated. "What a shame that we have to send out such a warning. You can never be too careful these days."
Residents who suspect they have been the victim of any of these scams should contact the AGO's Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230. Locally, residents can call Starkville Police Department at 662-323-4131.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch