FBI now involved in utility impostor scam investigation

SEATTLE -- Following a Problem Solvers alert about about utility company imposters in Seattle, the FBI on Wednesday released a joint alert with the Everett Police Department and the Snohomish PUD urging small, neighborhood businesses throughout the region to be on guard.

Con artists are posing as collections agents from local utility companies and demanding immediate payment of allegedly delinquent electric bills, with the threat of cutting off the power, while customers are being served. Most targets are small, neighborhood businesses; many of them are ethnic or minority-owned restaurants.

As with the scam incidents reported in Seattle, the FBI Seattle Division says the scammers calling in Snohomish County and other parts of the state instruct the businesses to buy prepaid debit cards or "money paks" from local convenience stores or provide credit card information. The scammers then remove the monetary value from the cards or use financial information to steal the funds.

According to the new FBI alert, the scam is hitting small businesses in Washington, Oregon, New York and Maryland. Businesses or individuals who receive calls demanding money for a utility bill are urged to avoid giving out any payment or financial information. Instead, get as much information as you can, especially a call back number, and report the call to your location utility company.