Spike in phony utility calls reported this week as scammers target churches

Release Date: 11/30/2018

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HONOLULU, Nov. 30, 2018 – Phone scammers kicked into high gear this week, targeting Hawaiian Electric Companies’ customers – mainly small businesses and churches. Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light are warning customers to “Just Hang Up!” on scammers who are much more active during the holidays.

Hawaiian Electric received 10 scam reports on Wednesday and five Thursday, pushing the company’s total number of reported phone scams to 100 so far in 2018. Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light have reported about 20 each so far this year. These are only the calls reported to the utilities, the actual numbers are known to be much higher.

Five Oahu churches received calls in the past two days from scammers who threatened to disconnect service unless payment was made. No money was exchanged. Trinity United Methodist Church was among the targets.

“Someone called and said that they were on their way to turn off our electricity since we hadn’t paid since August – it was almost a $1,000,” said Senior Pastor Amy Wake, who noted it was alarming because the church depends on electricity to run their preschool and other programs.

“They said that we had to go down to (a drug store) and get a money pack. That’s what alerted us that this was a problem. We said, ‘Is this a scam?’” Wake said they hung up and called Hawaiian Electric to confirm the church had no balance.

“To think that they’re targeting churches is really disappointing,” Wake said. “We are trying our best to do good in the world.”

Customers need to be alert and recognize scams, especially when criminals threaten to disconnect service unless a payment is made.

The companies offer the following tips:

  • If the caller says your utility account is delinquent and threatens to shut off service immediately unless payment is made, it’s a scam.
  • If someone calls from a utility demanding immediate payment over the phone, via money transfer, prepaid debit cards or by Bitcoin, it’s a scam.
  • If the caller asks to meet the customer in person to pick up a payment, it’s a scam.