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Electric and gas customers across the state are being urged to remain alert following a significant rise in the reported number of scams by those posing as bill collectors.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a news release Tuesday that over the past week his office has seen a significant jump in the number of scams reported. In most cases, the scammers contacted the intended victims by phone.

Officials said the scams have targeted both residents and businesses. Perpetrators have increased efforts in part because more people have now obtained their $600 stimulus checks.

“Calls to our consumer protection team about these types of scams have increased during the pandemic, as fraudsters try to prompt a reaction from Rhode Islanders who are genuinely worried about the status of these essential services,” Neronha said. “Never give out personal or financial information over the phone, even if the caller tells you they are from a legitimate business like National Grid.”

Scam efforts have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, officials said, and have included a wide range of efforts. Scammers reach out using a variety of methods, including phone calls, texts, email solicitation or in-person visits.

The most recent phone scam is an automated message alleging to be from National Grid. The message informs consumers that they have a past-due balance on their account and their power will be shut off in the next 30-40 minutes if they do not immediately make a payment using the number provided.

Similar scams of trying to rush payments have been reported by utility customers across the United States.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic there continues to be nefarious actors looking to take advantage of both our residential and business customers,” said Terry Sobolewski, president of National Grid Rhode Island. “We urge our customers to remain vigilant.”

Customers who have received suspicious calls can call National Grid’s Customer Contact Center to answer any billing questions at 1-800-322-3223.

To report the scam to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit, call 401-274-4400 or email consumers@riag.ri.gov.

— Jason Vallee

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