Scams and fraud related to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been erupting since its birth. Cryptocurrencies have amassed somewhat of a bad reputation because of its use in the execution of illegal processes. The latest crypto related scam that made into the news headlines was related to the Hawaiian electric. Apparently, the criminal has been calling businesses and telling them that they have electricity bills that were overdue and had to be paid in bitcoin, as soon as possible. The caller also emphasized that if they fall behind on paying the bill their connection would be disconnected. This is an old way of defrauding people, but the demand to make the customers pay in cryptocurrencies is relatively new. Jim Alberts, senior vice president for customer service of the Hawaiian Electric Companies said,
This is simply a new twist on an old scam, but our same advice applies: just hang up.
Even though the statement made by Jim Alberts is clear, allegedly in Oahu, three business have been robbed of hundreds of dollars that were submitted by them to the bitcoin ATM machines on instructions by the rip-offs. The victims were played into paying these hefty amounts because they were threatened that failure to pay the bills on time would result into disconnection. Shannon Tangonan, HECO director of corporate communications said,
They weren’t even overdue, but the scammers sounded so convincing that these business owners were willing to pay. They actually went to a bitcoin machine as directed by these scammers and fed cash into the machines, which then transfers it into digital currency.
The scammers were able to trick customers because the callback number they provided has the same automated prompts to that of the Hawaiian Electric company. This, however, is not the only technique they incorporated to trick people. They also sent emails to people with a disconnection notice on letterhead with the official logo of Hawaiian electric, an outdated one. The email also included details about where the overdue amount was to be submitted, a QC code to scan on a bitcoin machine. Tangonan also mentioned,
They sound so convincing. Even when they ask you to call back, they have prompts that sound or mimic our prompts when we have automated calls or recorded messages, they’re very convincing, so we just want to make sure the public is aware of these calls, and what we’re asking them to do is please do not call back the number that you see on your caller ID.
The Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a national consortium that includes the Hawaiian Electric Companies has reported that over a hundred cases were reported in which people reported similar cases of fraud.
To keep safe from being a victim of such an atrocity, a few things should be kept in mind. The Hawaiian electric does not accept bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency. So if the caller or an automated recording from Maui Electric or Hawaii Electric mentions that the overdue bill has to be paid via a debit card, cryptocurrency, or if a caller personally tries to pick up a payment, it’s a scam. The caller who threatens to shut off your connection is also not to be trusted. The customers should hang up and try to contact the numbers provided on electricity bills in order to contact the company. They should also refrain from calling back the numbers even if the caller ID says HECO, MECO, or HELCO. In short, any caller or email that tells you to make an unconventional form of payment is a fraud. Jim Alberts also mentioned,
Whether it’s bitcoin, gift cards or money orders, our companies aren’t going to threaten you or have you running around town to meet unorthodox payment demands.
Briefly, Cryptocurrencies have been a major instrument to extract money from people by tricking them. However, in this particular case, cryptocurrency does not play a major role. People lack knowledge and they are not aware of the fact that it is not a regular practice in companies to threaten their customers in case they fail to pay their bills. As the scammers are getting more and more aggressive, people should be more vigilant and should check the official source before conforming to the demands made by the scammer.