The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 7, 2013

Attorney general warns of collection scams

MONTGOMERY — Attorney General Luther Strange is warning residents about telephone scams that ask people to send money to either pay a supposed debt or, as a fee, to receive prizes or merchandise.

In recent days, he said, there have been reports from Huntsville and Birmingham of people receiving fraudulent calls threatening that their power was about to be disconnected if they did not immediately pay by providing credit card information or by purchasing and sending a disposable debit card. 

In response to this, the utility companies - including Huntsville Utilities and Athens Utilities - have issued public warnings urging consumers not to provide information or payments, but to contact the company directly. 

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division periodically receives inquiries and complaints about similar scams, with scammers often claiming to represent utilities companies that provide electricity, natural gas, telephone or cable service. 

“These scams use fear and intimidation to trick people into thinking they owe money and to send payments quickly or they may lose an essential or highly-valued service,” said Strange. “I urge Alabamians to be suspicious of any such calls and to not be frightened into sending money they may not owe and which may be impossible to recover.”

Strange said consumers should take extreme care in any wire transfers of money, in sending disposable debit cards, or in providing their financial information. 

He offers these tips for consumers:

Ask the person calling for their name and contact information, but do not rely on what they tell you. 

Look up the contact information of the company they claim to represent, verify it for yourself, and contact the company directly. 

If someone says you must act immediately, either to get a prize, to pay a fee, or to stop disconnection of a service, refuse to handle this with them on the telephone, but tell them that you will take care of it by contacting the company directly for yourself. If they persist in demanding immediate payment, tell them that you will report the matter to local law enforcement, the company they claim to represent and the Attorney General’s Office.

For information, call the attorney general's Consumer Protection Section at 1-800-392-5658 or visit http://ago.alabama.gov/Page-Consumer-Protection.

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