Scammers use sophisticated HECO plot on Honolulu family

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — A Hawaii woman is thankful she’s avoided a scam after her realtor, an email, and a phone call led her and her husband to believe that Hawaiian Electric was coming to shut off her power.

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Karen Mills and her husband have their East Honolulu home listed for sale. Last week Thursday, they received a call from their realtor warning them that their power was about to be shut off in half an hour by HECO if they didn’t make an immediate payment.

Mills thinks the scammers got their realtor’s number from a listing and called. Mills says the realtor then relayed the message.

“He had given her a work ticket number and a telephone number, a 1-800 number to call so we did that,” Mills said. “This gentleman introduced himself sounded very nice and so sorry this is happening blah, blah, and he tells me we owe $836.”

When Mills told the scammer the account was up to date, he transferred her to what he said was an accountant with HECO. The second scammer sent her an official-looking email with a HECO header, a QR code, and a link for payment.

“He sent the email it had the Hawaiian Electric logo and it said customer support at HECO so I was going along with the whole thing thinking this is legit,” Mills said.

She asked to make the payment on the HECO website. The scammer’s response is what tipped her off to the plot.

“That’s when he said no, no, we need your bank information it has to come on a wire transfer. So at that point, I said to my husband this has got to be a scam. They would never ask for my bank account information,” Mills said.

She was right. Fortunately, that raised red flags for Mills, but others aren’t so lucky. Scammers targeting utility customers isn’t new.

“When we call we’re not going to be threatening folks with immediate disconnection,” HECO Spokesperson Shannon Tangonan said.

Activity using email has picked up of late.

“The latest incidents that we’ve seen have focused on email, very sophisticated email, some of them even had real names of our employees,” Tangonan said.

To protect yourself, avoid clicking links in emails, make sure addresses are official, and visit HECO’s website on your own or call their number.

“Always the primary defense is to go directly to the source, and that doesn’t mean the phone number in the email or the QR code that they send you but really going to the HECO website or calling HECO on the phone,” tech expert Ryan Ozawa said.

Check out what’s going on around the nation on our National News page

Mills did report the scam to HECO. You can report a scam on their website, or see authorized payment options.

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