Utility scams ramp up as holiday season approaches

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The start of the holiday season also means it is prime time for scammers. Homeowners and businesses are at risk.

"Unfortunately this time of year, I guess the criminals need money for Christmas shopping or whatever, so they really tend to step up the pace when it comes to this kind of thing right now," said Kacee Kirschvink, a spokeswoman for Entergy.

On Tuesday morning, Toni Bessonet at Ascension Premiere Dental received a call from a private number.

"They said we're subcontracted through Entergy and we need to let you know that your service is going to be disrupted today," Bessonet said. "At first, I was shocked because I knew the doctor was in surgery."

The man on the other end of the line told her the office may be behind on paying an electric bill. He gave her an 800 number to make a payment.

She decided to call Entergy's direct helpline instead.

"It didn't resonate well, I thought this must be a scam," Bessonet said.

She was right. Calling the number lead to a message saying the call could not be completed as dialed and the line was being checked for trouble.

Entergy said there are some tell-tale signs to watch out for.

"Anytime someone calls you and demands payment over the phone or personal information, that should be a giant red flag that this is not a legitimate call," Kirschvink said.

Entergy also will never require people to use pre-paid cards to make payments.

Another word of advice from Kirschvink: stay calm and think before acting.

"You know whether you've paid your bill, especially when it comes to something that's going to give you comfort and utility every day of your life," Kirschvink said.

Bessonet said she is glad she did not fall for the scam and hopes her story will serve as a warning for others.

"These hackers are thinking of so many ways to dupe people, to take advantage of others. It's just not fair and it's really sad," Bessonet said.

Those who believe they are being scammed should call 1-800-ENTERGY (368-3749). They should also call law enforcement.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.