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MLGW utility bill scam targets church

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Someone is calling MLGW customers and threatening to cut off utilities if they don't receive payment on overdue bills immediately.

Don't fall for it, the Better Business Bureau says — it's a scam.

BBB says they received eight complaints about the scam on Tuesday alone. Some residential and business customers received a robocall, while others received a call from a real person.

In either case, the callers asked for payment via credit card, prepaid debit card, or gift card and often asked for banking information. Some people said the caller gave them just 30 minutes to hand over payment.

Susan Roberts, financial secretary for Mullins Station Baptist Church, said she fell for it, and didn't realize it until she saw WREG's warning. She received automated call Tuesday that said her utilities would be turned off in 30 minutes if she didn't call a phone number.

"I said, ‘Ahhhh!’ It’s church money for church utilities,” she said.

Roberts panicked, and called the number back.

“Someone else got on the phone and telling me you owe $498.32 within 30 minutes or [they're] going to cut our utilities off.”

Still panicking, Roberts said she offered to pay by credit card or debit card, but they’d only accept cash. They told her to go to the bank.

But the church has systems in place for that; three other members would have to sign off and none of them were available.

Roberts said she spent nearly two hours dealing with the call, eventually telling them to go ahead and cut off the utilities. That’s when they finally said there was an error and hung up.

She tried to put the episode behind her until this morning, when her pastor, Danny Spurlock, went through his normal routine.

“I look at the news, Channel 3 WREG is the app I use, and I opened it up, got to looking at it. There’s a scam going on,” Spurlock said.

He’s talking about the warning we passed from the Better Business Bureau about scammers targeting businesses, individuals and apparently even churches.

The BBB said they'd also heard from other victims and remind people to be suspicious of anyone calling demanding immediate payment.

It's a lesson Roberts learned the hard way: "Don’t be gullible and I hate to say it, don’t be so trusting.”

She said she’ll have to learn to balance serving her church members while protecting them as well.

MLGW reminds people they only use automated calls to make shutoff warnings, and say they would never leave an 800 number for you to call back.

BBB says utility companies never ask for payment by prepaid debit card or gift card. If you or your business has been targeted by this scam, share as many details as possible with BBB at bbb.org/scamtracker.

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