With Rhode Island small businesses focusing on making this a great summer season, scam artists posing as representatives of National Grid are banking on business owners falling for the ruse that service will be shut off unless an immediate payment is made. And, the newest form of "payment" scammers are requesting are iTunes cards.
The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit has received an increased number of calls from small businesses in Rhode Island who have been targeted. At least one business owner fell for the scam and reportedly gave more than $2,000 of iTunes cards over the phone to scammers.
iTunes cards work in the very same way as pre-paid debit cards, or green dot cards as they are sometimes referred to. Here's how it works:
The scammer threatens immediate termination of National Grid service unless you make an immediate payment over the telephone. They request you go to a store, such as a grocer or drug store, and load several iTunes gift cards with hundreds of dollars on each.
You are then urged by the scammer to provide the 16-digit code on the back of the card, which is under the peel-off label. Once the code is given, the scammer has full access to the money and your card is empty.
Why iTunes cards? It is believed the scammers are selling them on the online black markets. The 16-digit code on the back is virtually cash, which can be converted into untraceable currency, such as Bitcoin. To add credibility to their scheme, the scammers lead their targets to believe that the iTunes card is associated with Apple Pay, Apple's payment system.
So what should business owners and consumers keep in mind?
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin says it comes down to common sense. "If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from National Grid who is threatening immediate termination of service unless you pay with an iTunes gift card – or any type of pre-paid type debit card - it's a scam. Simply hang up," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. "National Grid does not demand direct payments over the telephone using these forms of currency, especially iTunes gift cards."
Callers have become increasingly sophisticated in replicating National Grid's recorded messaging and directions for phone prompts, making it more difficult to differentiate an actual call from National Grid as opposed to a scammer's call. To protect yourself and your business, National Grid urges customers to commit the first five digits of their National Grid account number to memory and ask the caller to provide it to them. Only a National Grid representative would have access to that number and be able to recite it back to the customer.
National Grid reminds business owners and as well as residential customers that National Grid may contact customers with past due balances by phone to offer payment options BUT NEVER demands direct payment over the telephone. Customers who have received calls demanding immediate payment and are asked to make a payment using an iTunes card, pre-paid debit card, or asked for bank account information should contact National Grid immediately at National Grid's Customer Contact Center at 1-800-322-3223.