TEP phishing scam has near-victim warning others

TEP phishing scam has near-victim warning others
TEP phishing scam has near-victim warning others. (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It was caught on Caller ID. A scammer, posing as a Tucson Electric Power (TEP) worker, was trying to steal Bill Wyko's money.

It came in as any normal phone call for Wyko. Everything checked out. Even the incoming number on the screen was the correct number for TEP: (520) 623-7711.

It was the caller's tone that had Wyko worried.

"He says, 'I'm with Tucson Electric Power and your electricity is scheduled to be turned off if you don't make payment," Wyko said, telling Tucson News Now about the experience. "It just seemed a little off when I answered the phone."

There were no pleasantries offered by the caller on the line. Only demands were made.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people are going to be intimidated by that and they're going to think I need to take care of this right away," Wyko said.

He knew that the business he owns, Audio 2000 at Speedway Boulevard and Swan Avenue, was in good standing with Tucson Electric Power. He even had just paid his bill days before.

TEP is aware these criminals are out there, specifically in cases like Wyko was caught in, and have put out the warning to keep people from becoming victims.

"Scammers instruct customers to make payment over the phone with a pre-paid money card within a short amount of time – often an hour or less – to avoid shutoff. The callers may use an angry or urgent tone of voice to pressure customers into making a payment," TEP said in a news release. "They sometimes use software that disguises phone calls or text messages to appear as if they're coming from TEP."

Instead, Wyko turned the tables on the scammer, asking questions in return. He wanted the scammer to give him accurate account information, like reciting Wyko's address where he has the TEP service, which the scammer gave wrong details.

Wyko then did exactly what TEP wants you to do in this situation: He hung up.

"TEP only contacts customers by phone with automated bill payment reminders as a courtesy, and never demands immediate payment," the news release said.

The company warned that people should not follow scammers' instructions to buy pre-paid cards. Also, after you hang up the phone on the potential scammer, you can call TEP back with your questions or concerns about these issues.

"TEP never urges customers to purchase pre-paid money cards to pay a monthly bill. A complete list of legitimate payment methods, including payment online and through TEP's mobile app, is available at tep.com," the news release explained.

"People lose everything in cases like this. If they get their credit card information - say they've got a $10,000 limit on their card - a lot of people don't know how to handle the situation once they've been ripped off like that. They don't know how to call the credit card company, they don't know what charge-backs are, they don't know all the information that's available to them. So it can really ruin a person's life," Wyko said.

After this experience, he will be more cautious in the future and he hopes others will, too.

"I don't want to see anybody fall victim to that," he said. "It absolutely irritates me that these people do this and they have no concern for the damage they do to people and their life."

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