Bryan Cohen Feb. 14, 2014, 3:00pm

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warned West Virginians on Wednesday about scammers posing as utility representatives, threatening consumers and demanding payment.

In the scam, callers impersonate employees for local gas and electric companies and threaten to disconnect the service unless the customer immediately makes a payment. Real utility companies will typically inform a consumer in writing if they are behind on payments.

"Our office has received calls from consumers who have been called by people claiming to be representatives of Appalachian Power and demanding immediate payment," Morrisey said.

"Similar to the scam we saw with Frontier Communications, the caller tells the consumer they are behind on their bill and they need to make an immediate payment. They also may ask for personal information, such as a consumer's Social Security number."

In some instances, the caller may ask consumers to make a payment using a prepaid debit card. The scammer tells the consumer to buy the card and then call back to remit the payment.

"If a caller asks you to do this, that's a huge red flag," Morrisey said. "Prepaid debit cards are like cash, and once that transfer is made to the scammer, the money is gone, and there's not any way to get it back."

Some scammers may call consumers to tell them they have a faulty electric or gas meter and it must be immediately replaced at the cost of the consumer.

Scam artists also may send phishing emails to consumers requesting personal or billing information.

"It's important for consumers to keep a cool head when they get unsolicited calls that use high-pressure tactics to get personal information," Morrisey said. "It's worth the time to call the service providers directly to verify any amounts that may be owed before handing anything over."

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