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Warning about new twist on utility scam in Tacoma

Tacoma Public Utilities says scammers trying to take advantage of customers have added a potentially dangerous new tactic. They want their victims to meet them face-to-face.

Tacoma Public Utilities is warning customers about a potentially dangerous new scam that has been reported by nearly 200 people in recent days.

The scammers call customers and tell them their account is overdue. They demand immediate payment, sometimes of $1,000 or more.

Callie Sterino says she received a call, demanding $499.07 or her power would be shut off.

"He said I was going to lose my TV and my lights, and they are going to be going out in an hour," said Sterino.

Customers are then told to buy prepaid debit cards at a convenience store and meet a "utility person" face-to-face at their meter box or local business. TPU says the request for face-to-face contact is a new approach and potentially dangerous.

TPU says the reason the scammers ask for prepaid cards is that regular debit cards or credit cards take time to process.

In Sterino's case, before she handed over any money, she called her sister who said it was a scam.

"It made me very upset. I was really mad. If I could have seen him face to face, I think I would have poked him in the nose," said Sterino.

TPU says it will never call, email, or make a home visit demanding immediate payment and will never request making a payment on a prepaid card. The utility also says it will never request credit card, banking, or financial information by phone, email, or in a home visit. TPU says it will never shut off service without giving at least seven days notice.