The caller ID read as the phone rang: PSEG, LONG ISLA. Yes, the ND was missing—and that was not all that was missing earlier this month. There was no truth to the call. It was a scam.
Our PSEG electric service, the caller advised, would be cut off in a half-hour to 45 minutes because of non-payment. I asked, clearly regarding this as a scam, how I was to know this was really PSEG Long Island. I was told I would be switched to the “manager.”
The “manager” got on the phone, identified herself as with PSEG Long Island. I identified myself as a journalist highly suspicious about the call believing it a scam. The “manager” immediately slammed down her phone.
I am not alone in getting such a scam call. Earlier this year, PSEG—out of its headquarters in Newark, New Jersey—issued a press release saying it “encourages customers to learn how to spot the signs of fraud and scams, and report them.”
The press release quoted Fred Daum, PSEG executive director of customer operations, saying: “Protecting our customers is a top priority. It is critically important we continue to raise awareness and educate customers about how to spot potential scams. Scammers continue to adapt and develop increasingly sophisticated tactics to take advantage of our customers.”
The PSEG release went on: “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have increased calls, texts, emails and in-person tactics, and they continue to contact utility customers asking for immediate payment to avoid service disconnection.” It added that PSEG “doesn’t send a single notification to a customer within one hour of a service disconnection. The company will also never ask customers to make payments with a prepaid debit card, gift card, any form of cryptocurrency or third-party digital payment via fund transfer applications.”
Under “Signs of potential scam activity,” PSEG listed first: “Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell the customer their utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made—usually within an hour.’
The release said: “If a customer has doubts about the legitimacy of a call or an email—especially one in which payment is requested—call the company directly at 1-800-436-PSEG.” I did just that. The automated voice on the other end, after announcing “Thank you for calling PSEG New Jersey” asked: “What would you like help with today.”
I said, “Scam.”
“Sorry I missed that,” the voice went on. “Please tell me what you are calling about today….an emergency, making a payment, account balance, repairs, moving, energy efficiency program, or it’s something else.”
I repeated “Scam.” And remained lost in this circular call. PSEG is not so good in dealing with electric outrages—as its terrible performance in Tropical Storm Isaias demonstrated, a reason the Long Island Power Authority is considering dismissing it as manager of the Long Island electric grid. It apparently is not so swift in handling reports on a PSEG scam either.
It was abundantly clear to me that a scam was involved as we have 38 solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of our house and excess electricity they generate is sent back to the grid for credit. Our electric meter thus has regularly run backwards. A common PSEG monthly bill is $8.60 for the meter reader to come.
But what about folks who do get fooled? How much money is lost?
The American Association of Retired Persons is very much on the case. It has said that that the “estimated loss” from “telemarketing fraud” in the U.S. is “more than $40 billion” a year. It has set up an AARP Fraud Watch Network. And the AARP “has been inundated with calls this year about scams,” it reported this month. These include “someone impersonating an IRS agent, Medicare official, Social Security Administration officer,” and so on.
On a government level, the Federal Trade Commission is the main agency with a responsibility for dealing with phone scams. On its website, it says part of its “mission” is to protect consumers from “fraudulent practices in the marketplace.” It says it investigates scam calls and asks that folks alert it through its website ReportFraud.ftc.gov
At least no calling to an automated circular call system in Washington is recommended.