Sheriff Webre Warns of Utility Company and Grandparent Phone Scams

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre is reminding residents to familiarize themselves with signs of phone scams to avoid becoming a victim. There have been reports of two specific scams recently plaguing residents, including a scam involving a utility company and another known as the “grandparent scam.”

Entergy Louisiana recently released information about an ongoing scam wherein utility customers receive calls from individuals threatening to disconnect services if an immediate payment is not paid on a past due bill. The victim is then directed to transfer funds electronically of through prepaid debit cards. The scammers often use sophisticated technology to replicate the utility company’s name and number on a caller I.D., making the scam difficult to spot.

The so-called “grandparent scam” occurs when a scammer contacts an elderly victim pretending to be a grandchild who is in jail or in distress. The caller sounds upset and may state they have a cold if their voice is not recognized. The caller typically states they have only a few moments to talk and may even provide a detailed story which ends with them being arrested. They may ask for bail money to be wired to an account, or they may request that a store gift card be purchased. If the caller is able to get money or gift cards from the first attempt, they will often contact the victim repeatedly seeking more. In some cases, the potential victim may also speak to, or receive a separate call from, someone claiming to be a law enforcement officer, a U.S. official or an attorney confirming the story or asking for additional funds.

“These scams have become elaborate in recent years with the advent of social media,” said Sheriff Webre. “We’ve seen multiple cases wherein the con artist refers to a grandparent by a nickname after finding a photo on social media. This shows the lengths these scammers are willing to go to take advantage of you.”

These two scams or common, but similar scams exist in many forms. While the circumstances may be different, they typically have one thing in common: the demand for immediate payment via prepaid debit card, electronic money order or gift card. This is one of the tell-tale signs of a scam, especially when it occurs on an incoming call. Other signs include a caller asking you to send money to receive money or prizes, a caller using threatening or vulgar language, or someone calling from a department, but not giving the name of the company.

“A request for a specific store gift card is a strong sign of a scam,” said Sheriff Webre.

Here are several ways citizens can avoid becoming a victim of a phone scam:

  • Hang up the phone immediately. Do not attempt to engage the caller or threaten them.
  • Block the number. If receiving the call on a mobile phone, you can block an individual number to prevent repeat calls.
  • Download a smartphone app which helps identify scam or “spam” calls.
  • Verify the source of the call. Ask for information from the caller such as the caller’s name and the company. Then search for the company on the Internet or in a phone book and find a contact number or email address. You can also call 4-1-1 to find a local number. If you believe the caller truly is a family member in distress, try calling that family member’s phone.

If you lose money in a scam or receive threats of physical harm or violence, you should report it to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office or your local law enforcement agency. If you believe a call may be legitimate but you have trouble validating the origin of the request, contact our agency. We would be happy to assist you to ensure you do not become the next scam victim.

Sheriff Webre Warns of Utility Company and Grandparent Phone Scams