It’s a case of an old scam in a new wineskin.
Customers of electric utility companies in the state of Hawaii are being targeted by scammers who are relying on the relative anonymity offered by cryptocurrencies.
The fraudsters are calling the customers of power firms that include Hawaii Electric Light, Maui Electric and Hawaiian Electric claiming that they have overdue bills. Further, the customers who include businesses are being threatened with immediate disconnection if the bills are not paid promptly using bitcoin.
According to Khon 2, a television station, reports of the scam started emerging earlier this month. Per Utilities United Against Scams, a consortium of over 100 electric, natural gas, and water utilities in the United States and Canada, hundreds of fraudulent calls have so far been reported. In one of the islands in Hawaii, O’ahu, three businesses have already fallen victim to the scam and have ended up paying hundreds of US dollars at bitcoin ATM machines.
“They weren’t even overdue, but the scammers sounded so convincing that these business owners were willing to pay,” corporate communications director of Hawaiian Electric, Shannon Tangonan, said. “They actually went to a bitcoin machine as directed by these scammers and fed cash into the machines…”
The modus operandi of the fraudsters involves picking random targets and inducing panic and fear that they will be left without power. In some cases, customers of the utility firms were sent emails complete with ‘disconnection notices’ that bore an outdated letterhead of one of the power companies. The emails also contained a QR code meant to be scanned at a bitcoin ATM machine.
The power utilities have consequently informed their customers to be on the lookout and avoid falling prey to the scam.
“This is simply a new twist on an old scam but our same advice applies: just hang up. Whether it’s bitcoin, gift cards or money orders, our companies aren’t going to threaten you or have you running around town to meet unorthodox payment demands,” Hawaiian Electric Companies’ senior vice president, customer service, Jim Alberts, told Khon 2.
As cryptocurrency adoption grows, fraudsters are increasingly turning to the new technology. The U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, for instance, recently disclosed that it gets more than 1,500 suspicious activity complaints involving cryptocurrencies on a monthly basis. As CCN reported, these suspicious activity reports were mainly from the money services businesses in the crypto sector as well as other financial sector players.
Featured image from Shutterstock.