It isn't BC Hydro calling: an update on the telephone scam

Person dialing on a phone

Telephone scam continues to target BC Hydro customers

Posted by Rob Marshall

The customer service team at BC Hydro receives hundreds of calls each day from customers. Unfortunately, lately many of the calls have focused on one thing: a fraud scam that's circling around B.C.

Some of you might have heard of this scam making the rounds but if you haven't, here's the basic idea.

  • Customers receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from BC Hydro.
  • The caller says that you're way behind on paying your BC Hydro bill and if you don't pay them immediately, and they mean immediately, your electricity will be cut off.
  • They tell the customer to go to a nearby corner store, grocery store, or Canada Post office, purchase a prepaid credit card or gift card, and call them back with the card info to "pay your bill".
  • Customers who purchase the card and provide the card info to the caller find out it's a scam, and they can be out the money that they just spent.

Many of the customers who've been targeted are small businesses, especially restaurants. The idea of a restaurant losing an entire day (or more) of revenue because they won't have power would be enough to make anyone panic.

The problem is, it's not BC Hydro calling. We never ask customers for banking or credit card information over the phone, and we definitely don't take payment from prepaid credit cards. So why are many of our customers (we've received over 2,000 complaints so far) being targeted, and in some cases, convinced to hand over their hard-earned money?

Sophisticated "spoofing" technology can make the scam hard to spot

Like many telephone scams out there, the fraudsters are using "spoofing" technology to make it appear like the call is really coming from BC Hydro. Your call display or mobile phone might display a legitimate BC Hydro phone number, or even say "BC Hydro" on the call display.

And the caller on the phone will certainly claim that they're calling from BC Hydro. If you call the number that they give you, they might answer as though they're a member of our customer team.

How we're helping to stop the scam

Like many scams out there (has anyone received a fake call from Westjet?), this one is hard to stop, but we're doing our best. The technology that the fraudsters are using can make it difficult to trace who is making the calls and where they originate. The use of prepaid cards makes it almost impossible to track any transactions or funds.

As BC Hydro's chief security officer, I lead one of the teams that are working with authorities to make this stop. I spent 21 years as a member of RCMP and oversaw business processes for security at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. I know firsthand how important it is for our customers to feel secure and how frustrating it is for all of us when we hear that someone has been victimized by a scam like this.

BC Hydro has been working with our partners, like the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, since we first heard about the scam to raise awareness for our customers and try to make the calls stop. We're working with law enforcement agencies here in B.C. and across Canada to try and tackle this scam and other popular telephone scams. Here's what we have done so far to let people know:

  • We've placed warnings on just about every communication piece to our customers, such as the BC Hydro website and homepage, customer bills, bill notification emails, email newsletters, and the hold message on our customer service phone line. This started in the fall, and we haven't stopped.
  • We use all our social media channels to reach out to our customers and encourage others to spread the word. Many law enforcement agencies are also using social media to spread the word, including police departments from West Vancouver, Port Moody, New Westminster, Saanich, Coquitlam, and Vancouver. As are news outlets from across the province, Consumer Protection BC, EComm 911 and the Better Business Bureau.
  • The Better Business Bureau of B.C. listed the telephone scam as one of the top 10 scams of 2014. This generated a lot of media coverage and hopefully more awareness for our customers.
  • We've sent emails directly to our small and medium business customers (the group of customers most often targeted by the scammers) to warn them about the scam, and what they should do if they receive a call. Since many of the customers targeted are restaurants and small businesses, we're working closely with industry partners to spread the word to their members, including Tourism Vancouver, the BC Chamber of Commerce, the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, and the Building Owners and Management Association of BC.

Tell your friends: this is a scam

We all want scam phone calls like these to stop, but until they do, we'll keep posting information and sharing warnings. But one of the best ways for your friends and family to know that this is a scam is for them to hear it from you.

Here's what you should do if you or anyone you know receives a call that you think may be a scam:

  1. Hang up and call 1 800 BCHYDRO (1 800 224 9376) or 604 224 9376 in the Lower Mainland (be sure to phone us directly, don't call any other number that the caller may give you), and report the fraudulent call to our customer team. Remember that you can always use MyHydro online to check your account status and current balance.
  2. Report the call to us (by phoning in), your local police department, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1 888 495 8501.
  3. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues about the scam:
    1. BC Hydro doesn't collect credit card payments, banking information or prepaid credit card info over the phone.
    2. If your account is behind on payments, we'll send you notices in the mail (you won't just suddenly get a call one day).
    3. You can check your account status online using MyHydro.
    4. Send them this post, share it on social media, and tell your colleagues and employees about it too.

My team and our colleagues here at BC Hydro are going to continue working to stop this scam. With your help, maybe we can stop it a little sooner.

Rob Marshall is BC Hydro's chief security officer.