Bryan Cohen Jun. 18, 2013, 5:59pm

RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a consumer alert Monday about a bill payment scam targeting utility customers in Virginia.

In the scam, Virginians receive calls from a person claiming to be an employee of the resident's electric utility provider. The caller threatens to shut off electric service unless a delinquent bill is paid off within a few hours. The scammer then encourages the Virginian to go to Walmart or another retailer to buy either a Green Dot Visa card or another pre-paid debit card to allow a payment to be made over the phone.

The scam artists may be targeting businesses, Spanish-speaking customers and the elderly in the scam. Some of the scammers use spoofing technology to make it look like Virginians are getting a call from the utility company on their Caller ID.

"Scammers are always coming up with new tricks to take away your hard-earned money," Cuccinelli said. "Taking advantage of innocent people is intolerable, shameful, and appalling-- especially in this tough economy -- and my office will not stand for it."

Cuccinelli's office received complaints of the scam from customers of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Dominion Virginia Power and Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative.

Utility companies will never direct customers to make payment in a specific form, such as the Green Dot card. Utilities will typically communicate the potential termination of electric service through a mailed communication.

"We are taking the necessary steps to inform the citizens of Virginia that scammers are real, and educating them on how to protect themselves," Cuccinelli said.

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