Utility scams spiking in Connecticut, victims losing big bucks

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NEW LONDON --  Connecticut's major utility providers are warning customers about a new wave of phone scams targeting people's electric bills.

A caller will threaten a customer saying he or she is behind on bills and the household's electricity will be cut off immediately if the bill isn't paid up at once. Most customers do the right thing and hang up the phone, others fall prey to the scammers.

Barry Neistat of New London fell victim to one such scam. He said he knew the warning flags, but with the chaos of the morning rush along with family issues, he wasn't thinking straight.

"I gave them my check numbers and everything I had in front of me to show that my bill was paid. They put me on hold for five or six minutes and said nothing was showing as payment and said sorry to do this to you our truck is on William Street we're going to be shutting you down in 30 minutes now," said Barry Neistat, owner of the Muddy Waters Cafe. "They told me to go to Stop and Shop pick up these re-loadable cards, fill them with cash, and call them...and I fell for the whole thing."

Barry shared his story with FOX 61 hoping others don't fall victim to the scammers. He lost almost $2,000. "I've never been a victim of a scam before. I never even got a call before."

To add insult to injury, the scammers called Barry back, harassing him about the fast one they just pulled. "They taunt you. They're evil people."

Utility providers have been trying to reach out to customers to educate them on the proper way they do business. United Illuminating, Eversource Energy, and Norwich Public Utilities all report having customers recently fall victim to the scam artists.

"We never demand immediate payment over the phone. We never demand a pre-loaded credit card or cash card, that you bring cash to a convenience store," said Mitch Gross, Eversource Energy spokesman.

"If they ask for your account number that's a red flag, we already know it so we wouldn't ask that information," said Michael West, United Illuminating spokesman. "If they're asking you to leave your home and purchase anything, that's a big red flag."

Unfortunately, Barry lost his money and insurance doesn't cover the incident. "It's hindsight. I know everything about it now. I just wish those 30 minutes I could change some things but I can't but I can change by letting the public know, they're out there."

Information from UI on how to not be a scam victim