It's been simmering for a while since it last captured widespread attention, but the electric-company phone scam has returned big-time, and small business operators are on notice that they're in the crosshairs.

Pile of Money
Ingram Publishing

Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni Monday issued a dire warning that the ruse is vicious this time around, using Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) as the front to intimidate and to frighten unsuspecting marks into compliance.

According to the Prosecutor's Office, a salon, a deli and a gym have all fielded calls appearing to originate at JCP&L, taking the familiar shape: You're told that your bill is past due, and you're being awarded the chance to pay quickly and avoid immediate shutoff, business interruptions, work stoppages or even embarrassment.

The callers have included demands for direct payments through pre-paid credit cards such as Green Dot or MoneyPak, reloadable debit cards, or gift cards.

Gramiccioni emphasizes that each of these methods is an immediate red flag, adding that no legitimate business demands payment through pre-paid debit cards.

JCP&L, and its parent company First Energy, do not call or e-mail customers to demand immediate payment, nor do they threaten immediate disconnection, a point driven home previously by JCP&L Vice President of Operations Anthony Hurley.

The company neither demands, nor requires, phone transactions through pre-paid or reloadable credit or debit cards.

It's also valuable to know that JCP&L employees typically appear on customer's doorsteps in response to service requests. They carry photo identification, wear uniforms and travel in clearly-marked vehicles.

If you've been the target of an attempt, or worse, if you've committed funds and figured out later that it's a scam, Gramiccioni recommends reporting it to local police as the first step.

JCP&L also wants to know if you've been victimized. Staffers can be reached, toll-free, at 1-800-662-3115. Visit JCP&L's scam information page for valuable tips on how to recognize scams before they trap you.

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