Bill scammers target church in one hometown

By  | 

VINTON, Va. (WDBJ7)-- When the phone rang at Lighthouse Church in Vinton Wednesday, there was a threat on the other end of the line.

WDBJ7 photo

“It was Appalachian Power letting us know, as a courtesy, that the power was going to be disconnected in 30 minutes,” said church treasurer Rosie Caldwell.

That would have been a major problem. There was a service planned for the evening, plus classes during the day, and Caldwell, who handles all the church's bills, was immediately concerned.

“I thought maybe there was a genuine error somewhere,” she said.

The man on the phone said Lighthouse owed over $2,000. Using what Caldwell says seemed like ApCo's genuine phone system, the man transferred her over to an associate, who then directed her to make an immediate payment at a local Dollar General.

“So I hung up, called Appalachian and they said yes, it's a scam,” said Caldwell.

According to Appalachian Power's Teresa Hall, incidents like this show no one is safe from scammers. “It doesn't matter whether you're a residential customer, a church, another organization, or a business small or large, anyone can be a target,” she said.

Hall says calls like Caldwell's happen just about every day. And the more calls that are made, the more sophisticated they get. “We've seen them grow and get more and more creative through time,” she said.

Scammers now use phony versions of AEP's website, and make knock-offs of AEP's phone menu. Hall says the safest thing to do if you think you're facing a scam call: hang up, and call the phone number Appalachian Power provides on your bill, or on their website. She also says to be suspicious anytime someone demands immediate payment, or asks for money via Dollar General, Western Union, or anything else unofficial.

“If your gut tells you something's up, it probably is,” said Hall.

Back at Lighthouse Church, Rosie Caldwell says this experience has left her just plain mad. “What aggravates me is they really target the elderly. Not that I'm elderly!”

But that doesn't keep her from hoping that her would be scammers just might, some day, see the light.

“In the long run, it'll catch up with them. And you just have to pray for them and think things are going to be better for them,” she said.

Copyright 2019/WDBJ7. All rights reserved.