SLED called on to investigate utility phone scam

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) -- South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is asking the state police to investigate a phone scam that targets utility consumers across the state.

      The investigation request came after the state's electric cooperatives asked for help combating the scam.

      According to a release from Wilson's office, the call begins with someone posing as an electric cooperative employee who says the home or business' electric service will be disconnected unless a bill is paid immediately.

      The scammers tell the victims to buy prepaid debit cards and call toll-free numbers to give the card details to the scammers.

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

      It appeared the scammers initially targeted the state's Hispanic community, Wilson said, but now the scam has expanded to attack small businesses and restaurants.

      "Due to the volume of complaints, I have asked SLED to opena formal investigation," said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. "Ibelieve this is a prudent step to help protect unsuspecting consumers."

      "It's vitally important cooperative members know that wewill never call them and ask them toshare personal information over the phone," said Tom Upshaw, president and CEOof Palmetto Electric Cooperative in Ridgeland. "In addition, notice is sent toour members before we disconnect services. If you receive one of thesesuspicious phone calls, you should hang up and contact your local lawenforcement."

      Officials say electric cooperative officials will never call or email customers asking them to share their account details.

      Officials are also advising people to ask where the caller is located because caller ID information can be faked.