A Langley businessman is warning people about scammers who almost got $1,000 from him by pretending to be BC Hydro employees.
The businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, recently opened a new business in Langley. While he was moving in, the previous owner of the building had paid the last couple months of utility bills.
So when he got a call on Nov. 5, supposedly from BC Hydro, saying he was in arrears and was about to have his power disconnected, it seemed plausible.
He was given another number – which appeared to be a Hydro number – to contact, and connected with someone about his supposedly late power bill.
The scammers said he could pay online through his bank, then told him he needed to go to Vancouver to pay in person.
When he protested that was too far, they started sending him on what seemed like a wild goose chase.
First they had him go to a convenience store in Surrey, but it was closed.
The scammers, who stayed on the phone with the business owner the whole time, then directed him to the Guildford Mall.
Meanwhile, the con artist was continuing to say the time for power shutoff was getting closer and closer, down to 25 minutes at one point.
Expecting a BC Hydro office or kiosk at the mall, the businessman found he was being directed to deposit $1,000 in a Bitcoin machine, using the electronic currency.
“I said, well, I’m not going to pay Bitcoin,” he said.
With his suspicions raised, he tried to contact BC Hydro to determine if the call was legitimate. It took about 30 minutes to get through to someone, but eventually he confirmed that his account was fine and paid up. No one was going to shut off electricity to his business, and he had not turned over any money to the scammers.
Despite that, it was a disruptive day. His business had to cancel three clients as they were worried about the power issues, and he spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to pay a bill he didn’t owe.
After the scam attempt, the business owner called the RCMP and was diverted to a fraud line, but he said they weren’t that interested because he hadn’t actually lost any money.
Ultimately, he would like to warn other locals of the scam, and he hopes agencies like BC Hydro can make it easier to confirm who is calling.
Fake billing scams are extremely common, and ones involving BC Hydro appear to be on the increase, said a Hydro representative.
“Our records indicate an increase in reported scams in recent months, with October seeing around a 27 per cent increase in the number of attempted scams reported to us over the previous month,” Hydro said in a statement.
The most targeted areas appear to the suburbs in the Lower Mainland, as well as Nanaimo and Vernon.
BC Hydro does appreciate reports of such attempted scams, as their security team works with local police to track and share info on the scams.
Hydro does not collect any credit card or bank account info over the phone, and never asks for payment in pre-paid credit cards or Bitcoin.
Actual notifications about accounts in arrears will come by email or an auto-dialler reminding customers to make a payment, not a person demanding cash.
“If a customer doubts the authenticity of the call, we recommend they hang up and call BC Hydro immediately at 1-800-BCHYDRO.”
Accounts can also be checked on at bchydro.com.
Similar scams, including the common one which claims to be a Canada Revenue Agency call, all operate on the same principles, with people told they face arrest or other serious consequences for outstanding debts, and with callers telling them to transfer Bitcoin or buy gift cards to pay off the “debt.”