New Brunswick

'Hydro Extortion' scam targets businesses

A telephone scam known as the “hydro extortion” has targeted at least three NB Power customers in one day.

Calls to restaurants say crew has been dispatched to disconnect power

David Halfyard from The Cabin restaurant in Fredericton said he nearly fell for the 'hydro extortion' phone scam. (CBC)

A telephone scam known as the "hydro extortion" has targeted at least three NB Power customers in one day.

David Halfyard, the owner of the well-known Fredericton diner The Cabin, said the telephone scam nearly worked on him.

"I almost paid. They almost got me," said Halfyard.

The scam starts with a call to the business, often at the busiest time of day.

The fraudster says a crew has already been dispatched to disconnect power due to an unpaid power bill.

The business is given a matter of minutes to pay-up before the crew arrives.

I was riling him and he said, 'we're going to come a burn your business down.- David Halfyard, owner of The Cabin restaurant.

Halfyard said he got the call at 11:55 a.m. on Thursday.

"A fella identified himself as NB Power and said my bill was in arrears and that in 45 minutes a truck was coming on a disconnect order," said Halfyard.

"And I thought, 'this is one of my buddies playing with me.'"

Halfyard said he suspected a scam, but then the caller asked for an amount that sounded similar to his last bill.

"This is the best scam I've heard of. They have access to your bill somehow, and you really think they're going to disconnect your power, and you'll probably pay it."

David Halfyard said the scammers called his restaurant at lunchtime, when he could not afford to lose power. (CBC)
Halfyard was given the number of a payment centre and only when called it was he sure it was a scam.

He said he called the number five times to berate the con artists, who acknowledged that they were conducting a scam.

"He said [to me], 'Sir, you got us, but you'll never get us. We're buried so deep. Just go and have a nice day,'" said Halfyard.

"I was riling him and he said, 'We're going to come a burn your business down.'"

Bill information

Halfyard said he doesn't know how the scammers knew how much his bill would be.

Deborah Nobes, spokesperson for NB Power, said she doesn't know, either.

"We take a lot of precautions to protect customer information," said Nobes.

"This would not be something that would have come from us, and I would wonder how that would happen."

If you have any doubt at all that you're talking to NB Power, just please hang up and call us.- Deborah Nobes, NB Power spokesperson

Nobes told CBC News that NB Power got three calls on Thursday regarding this scam.

She said NB Power would never send out a crew to disconnect power like that at such short notice.

"We really want our customers to be aware that NB Power would not be doing that," said Nobes.

"If you have any doubt at all that you're talking to NB Power, just please hang up and call us."

'Social engineering'

Daniel Williams, a senior fraud specialist with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said the scammers use some very clever methods.

"It's usually social engineering. The same type of tactics that a clairvoyant in [Las] Vegas would use," said Williams.

"Leading questions, good guesses, a confident manner and have the victim cough up the information that they need."

Daniel Williams, with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said the "hydro extortion" is very common across North America. (CBC)

His advice is to reveal nothing to anyone who calls looking for money.

"Allow the information to flow, but one-way, from them to you," said Williams

"You don't need to verify anything. The assumption is they are legitimate, they know who you are, they have your information."

Williams said the "hydro extortion" scam often works because people in the restaurant business might not have the time to think clearly.

"It's a good scam," he said.

"It's a clever scam. Hit people at the busiest time of the day, give them a threat that they really can't afford have go wrong."

now