2017-08-11 / Front Page

Power district target of phone scam

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Local residents who receive collection calls from Kennebunk Light and Power [KLP] should be wary, at least if the caller asks for any kind of credit card information.

On Friday afternoon, Aug. 4, the power district reported by a flash email that a telephone scam was “in progress,” in which a caller asked for credit or debit card numbers to settle a past due balance. According to the notice some customers who received the call were treated to “verbal threats of immediate disconnection and/or removal of meters.”

However, as KLP Executive Director Todd Shea later pointed out, those kinds of actions are not permitted by Maine Public Utility Commission regulations.

“The district does make telephone calls to individuals with past due accounts. But, credit or debit card information is never asked for as we don’t take those forms of payment over the phone,” Shea said. “ I can be very adamant about that. Nobody from KLPD will ever call and demand payment be made over the phone.”

Shea said calls made by KLP are “pre-emptive,” done primarily to notify a past-due customer that a PUC required final notice will soon go in the mail, advising of a specific disconnect date. On occasion, KLP employees in the field will accept payment when arriving at a home to disconnect the power, Shea said, but even then no credit card information is taken. Those types of payments are strictly cash or check.

According to Shea, “about 15 or 20” customers called the KLP office on Friday to report getting the suspicious call.

“It started with 50 Local, and then came others in alphabetical order,” Shea said. “So, it was pretty clear it was definitely somebody working through a list of some kind. Whether they got it from the phone book, or the Chamber of Commerce, or even from our own information somehow, we don’t know.”

According to the names Shea ticked off, all of those called appeared to have been business customers. Attempts by the Post Monday to reach those customers were unsuccessful. Shea did not say whether any of those called were actually delinquent in their bills.

“Our customers who are past due, they know who they are,” he said, suggesting that not having a past due balance might have been one tip-off to those contacted.

“We did get a number, and what we do know is that as soon as police got involved the calls stopped,” Shea said.

On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Michael Nugent said the calls remain under investigation, but he could not say what in particular the department did to scare off the scammers. And, as to identifying those responsible, that may never happen.

“It is something we are looking into, but I don’t know how much meat there is on the bone there,” he said. “To tell you the truth, scam calls like that are so commonplace — and we find oftentimes they originate from out-of-state, and in some cases out-of-county, even — it’s really difficult to do anything with them.”

Shea said KLP is in the midst of a planned upgrade to its computer systems. That should be complete by the end of next week, he said. Once in place, some of the enhancements ratepayers will see is the ability to make credit and debit card payments securely over the district website.

At that time, customers also will be able to pay with a card at the KLP office, using a point-of-sale system that will never allow the card to be handled by anyone but its owner.

“So, even then, it’s important for all of our ratepayers to know that nobody from KLPD will ever ask them for their card information,” Shea said. “Anyone who gets a call or other form of contact from anyone claiming to be from KLP asking for a credit card number, they’re getting scammed.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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