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Scammers target utility customers via cryptocurrency

A group of utilities and agencies issued an advisory on Wednesday, Nov. 16, warning residents of Hawai‘i to be on the lookout for scams involving cryptocurrency kiosks and cash apps for mobile phones.

The advisory, which came on Utility Scam Awareness Day, said scammers were preying on vulnerable utility customers and also targeting small businesses during peak hours.

In some recent instances, consumers were told that their service would be cut off “immediately unless they went to a Bitcoin machine to make a payment,” the group said.

“Bitcoin kiosks have been popping up across the state in places like gas stations, laundromats, smoke shops and mini marts. Just in the past month, one recent victim paid over $12,000 in multiple payments at a kiosk in a small restaurant,” the agencies said in a joint statement.

The group, which issued the advisory, consists of Hawaiian Electric, Hawaiian Telecom, Hawai‘i Gas, Honolulu Board of Water Supply and Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, along with the state Office of Consumer Protection and Honolulu Police Department.

“Cryptocurrency is not accepted as payment for any utility service in Hawai‘i, whether electricity, phone, internet, gas or water,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the consumer protection office, in a statement on Wednesday. “If you get a threatening call demanding payments by Bitcoin, gift cards, money transfer or prepaid debit cards, just hang up and call your utility directly.”

The utilities also offered the following tips:

• If the caller says your utility account is delinquent and threatens to shut off service immediately unless payment is made — it’s a scam. Don’t be fooled by the caller ID, which can be manipulated to show a legitimate phone number;

• If someone calls from a utility demanding immediate payment over the phone via gift cards, money transfer, prepaid debit cards or by Bitcoin — it’s a scam;.

• If the caller asks to meet you in person to pick up a payment — it’s a scam;

• If you receive an email from your utility urging you to click on an embedded link or attachment to resolve a utility issue or pay a bill, think before you click. It’s likely a scam;

• If a utility worker shows up at your home or place of business, ensure that person is wearing official attire with a logo, driving a properly labeled vehicle and carrying company identification. When in doubt, call the utility’s customer service center.

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Wyatt Haupt Jr., editor, can be reached at 808-245-0457 or whaupt@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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