Reston, VA

As concerns grow about the coronavirus, state and county officials, along with Dominion Energy, want residents to beware scams related to the virus.

“As the coronavirus public health emergency continues, scam artists are taking advantage [of] the situation,” one of the many alerts from Fairfax County said.

Coronavirus Scam Prevention

Due to Virginia’s declared state of emergency, the county noted that it is unlawful of suppliers to sell, lease or license any necessary goods and services “at an unconscionable price.”

As of yesterday (Tuesday), spokespeople for Fairfax County and FCPD haven’t received any reports about scams related to the coronavirus.

Earlier in March, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring urged residents to be wary of coronavirus scams, which could include products for sale claiming to prevent the virus, misinformation or fake solicitations for coronavirus victims, according to a press release.

“Unfortunately, scammers oftentimes take advantage of natural disasters or public health fears like the coronavirus to make a buck,” Herring said in the press release.

The press release offered tips for people to combat scams:

  • Look out for emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that they have information about the coronavirus. For the most updated information you can visit the CDC and the World Health Organization websites.
  • Do not click on any links from unknown sources. This could lead to downloading a virus on your computer or phone.
  • Ignore any offers, online or otherwise, for a coronavirus vaccine. If you see any advertisements for prevention, treatment or cures ask the question: if there had been a cure for the disease would you be hearing about that through an advertisement or sales pitch?
  • Thoroughly research any organizations or charities purporting to be raising funds for victims of the coronavirus.
  • Look out for “investment opportunities” surrounding the coronavirus. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission there are online promotions claiming the products or services of certain publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure the disease and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase because of that.

“It is so important that Virginians stay vigilant and do their research before giving their money to anyone purporting to sell preventative medications or raising funds for victims,” Herring said.

Scams Often Target Seniors

Dominion Energy is working with police to get the scammers’ phone numbers shut down, according to Peggy Fox, a Dominion Energy spokesperson.

“Dominion Energy will never make threatening phone calls, demand you pay over the phone or ask you to pay with prepaid cards,” Fox said.

Often, the scammers — claiming to be from Dominion Energy — will call people and threaten to cut off service if payments aren’t made immediately, Fox said.

“They direct their victims to another number and when you call it (which I have) you may hear our Dominion Energy voice recording — which they’ve stolen,” Fox said, adding that they will also tell people to buy pre-paid cards for payment.

Tips from Dominion Energy on how to spot scams:

  • While robocall scams can be relatively easy to spot, effective scammers continue to make personal phone calls. Some scammers may employ scare tactics, while others will try to gain your trust by sounding friendly and sympathetic.
  • Many utility scammers try to instill fear and a sense of urgency by threatening immediate service disconnection if you don’t provide payment information over the phone or agree to pay your energy bill with a prepaid debit or gift card.
  • Dominion Energy does not make calls requesting immediate payment or require customers to pay with prepaid cards of any kind.
  • Some utility impostors may falsify their caller ID to appear they are using a local number or even Dominion Energy’s customer service number. When in doubt, hang up and call the number located on your energy bill.
  • Don’t let anyone into your home unless you have a previously scheduled appointment or have called about an issue. Always check for proper identification before letting personnel in. Additionally, utility workers won’t ask you to pay an energy bill in person.
  • Hang up. Customers can always verify their account balance and payment due date by signing into their dominionenergy.com account or calling 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357).

“These scams are widespread in each of the 18 states we serve. They’re relentless in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where we provide electrical service,” Fox said, adding that they often target seniors.

Additionally, Dominion Energy is waiving reconnection and late fees, along with donating $1 million to relief organizations to help people impacted by the coronavirus.

Suspect It’s a Scammer?

So what happens if a scammer calls? Hang up and call these places.

People who have questions or concerns about scams can contact the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Section at 800-552-9963 or the county’s Consumer Affairs Branch at 703-222‐8435, TTY 711.

People who think they’ve received a scam call regarding Dominion Energy should hang up and report the calls to Dominion Energy and the police.

Photo by Jonah Pettrich on Unsplash

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