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Hawaiian Electric warns of spike in scam calls during coronavirus pandemic

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Hawaiian Electric is warning customers about a spike in spam calls and texts threatening to disconnect their electricity unless they pay, a move the company said scammers are making to capitalize on the public’s anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shannon Tangonan, spokeswoman for Hawaiian Electric, said there have already been 42 reports of the scam on Oahu today. The number is likely higher because not everyone reports the scam.

Scam calls and texts come in waves, Tangonan said, and usually spike during the holiday season, but the number reported today is higher than what is usually reported during holidays.

“Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I think scammers are even more active,” she said. “Trying to target folks during this time when people are, you know, already frightened by what’s going on, and they want to prey on those folks.”

Tangonan said the reports of the scam started coming in on Friday, but most have come in today.

Hawaiian Electric said it does not send out text messages to request payment from customers. Tangonan said it has also stopped sending automated reminder calls since announcing it will not disconnect customers’ electricity until at least April 17 — the company’s response to the pandemic.

Both residential and commercial customers will be spared from being disconnected during that period, which may be extended.

“If you’re getting a call now mentioning any kind of disconnection — at least now through April 17 — that’s an automatic red flag,” Tangonan said.

Hawaiian Electric reported a scam in which a customer was asked to pay via the peer-to-peer payment application Cash App, but the company said it does not accept Cash App payments, bitcoin, gift cards or prepaid debit cards.

Tangonan said the scams usually fade on their own once people become aware of them.

Hawaiian Electric is encouraging customers to call if they are having trouble paying their bills during the COVID-19 outbreak. Tangonan said people have already called in to set up a personalized payment plans.

“Maybe you have a bill that you’re not able to pay, but you can pay part of it this month and part of it maybe next month, and we go from there,” she said. “It really is a case-by-case basis.”

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