Mary Trimpey of Martinsville says customers of American Electric Power (parent company of Appalachian Power) should beware of a scamming telephone caller who demands immediate payment for a supposedly overdue bill and who doesn't take no for an answer.
Trimpey had proof she had paid her electric bill and didn’t fall for the scam, but she is afraid others might. And the entire process left her harassed by repeated calls and in tears.
Her ordeal began around 4 p.m. Wednesday. “We got a phone call at our small business, Trimpey’s Auto at 2710 Spruce St.," she said. "The caller … said our electric bill with AEP was three months behind, and they were going to cut the power off at 5 p.m.”
Trimpey said she returned a call to the number — 800-506-7989 — and found she had reached a call center that was supposedly AEP.
"I was asked about our electric bill [three months past due]," she said. "The caller needed me to verify our account: dates the payments were made, check numbers, etc. He was hard to understand, so I asked for a supervisor and explained I didn’t understand, as I had proof of payment on bank statements.”
Trimpey said she told the male representative that the bill had been paid, but he argued with her. “He said, ‘No you haven’t,’" she said.
“I said I have proof. I have my bank statements saying they were paid, where it was drafted out of my bank bills. He said, ‘But ma’am, it’s not showing on your account that you paid the bills, so we’re demanding it [payment].’"
Trimpey said the man told her to go to Dollar General to get a Money Pak card and to put $396 in cash on the card and call him back. She said the representative provided a name and extension number and warned that, if she didn't call, the power would be shut off. He even asked for her cell phone number, so he could call her at Dollar General when she had the card in hand.
Trimpey said she made a mistake and gave the caller her cell phone number. “I wasn’t thinking,” she said.
“He called me four times last night [Wednesday], on up until midnight, demanding that money, which is harassment," she said. "I refused to pay it. I called him a scammer. The last time, I said, ‘This is a scam. I’m in bed. I’m not falling for it, and he hung up. He’s called my cell phone again this morning [Thursday].”
Trimpey repored the incident to the Henry County Sheriff's Office. “They told me to turn my phone off, not to use it for two or three days, so he couldn’t access me," she said. "He does have my business phone number. They advised me at the sheriff’s office to tell my friends, warn them [about the scam]….”
“My neighbor, she got a phone call, too. So I know they’re working the area.”
The sheriff’s office confirmed the scam and that it was aware of one other complaint. The office issued a news release Thursday afternoon outlining the process as Trimpey had encountered and listing steps and information from Appalachian Power about how to respond properly if called as Trimpey had been.
“This is so unfortunate," said Teresa Hall, a spokesperson for Appalachian Power Co. "Probably every few months we hear about scams. They go from location to location. … Scammers get more creative all the time.”
Hall said she received a call last week on her personal cell phone asking her if Appalachian Power had a worker in the meter department — the caller said the person purporting to be a meter department worker was around the corner and threatening to turn the power off if she didn’t buy a card (similar to the one Mary Trimpey described in the related article).
“This guy, they’re pushy with their demands," Trimpey said. "I’m worried about other people my age and older that might actually think they haven’t paid their bill, that they might not haven’t kept their bill. That’s what I’m worried about. I don’t want nobody to get hurt. I’ve got proof of everything I paid. I keep it. I guess they’re thinking everybody’s stupid, but they’re not, we’re not.”
The experience has been upsetting for Trimpey and that she cried at one point.
“I’m stressing out over this. I’m worried about people getting hurt. ... I didn’t sleep good last night [Wednesday]. This has been bothering me. I care about people,” Trimpey said.
She also called the Ridgeway phone number for AEP and was told the interaction sounded like a scam.
“Most people have big light bills. I have a wood stove. Mine are small," she said. "But almost $400, that’s a lot of money for someone on Social Security. I’m disabled.”
A reporter tried to call the 800 number Trimpey provided and was greeted with a recorded voice saying "Appalachian Power Customer Solutions Center." Then the voice went into what sounded like slow motion. Eventually a live, male voice came on, and that person said, “This is Anthony.”
The reporter asked, “Is this Appalachian Power Company or a scam?”
That person hung up.