FLORAL PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some small businesses on Long Island are the latest targets of utility scammers who make an urgent demand.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported exclusively on the consume alert Monday and talked with some of the victims.

Dog groomer Cathy Grasman pays her utility bills on time. So she was alarmed when an urgent phone call came into her Floral Park salon.

“All he said was: ‘You have 35 minutes. We’re going to shut your electric off. I’m calling from PSE&G,’” and he had my balance. He knew the balance,” Grasman said.

Losing power on a busy Saturday would have meant big losses.

“We’re done – like anyone else, we’re done,” she said. “Wet dogs; soapy dogs. You do what you have to do to keep your business open.”

The called remanded an immediate payment of $3,000 via a prepaid debit card that she would have to buy at a drugstore.

An identical threat to disconnect power came into a busy Cedarhurst clothing store.

“They said that they have an order form in front of them, saying that they’re going to shut down the power in 30 minutes,” said Marissa Mancinelli, an employee of the A-List clothing store.

Both business owners peppered the caller with questions and were savvy enough to hang up before being scammed.

“We would never require immediate payment for risk of being shut off, so if they get that call, our customers should know immediately that is a scam,” said PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir.

PSEG said it is an industrywide problem they are tackling through awareness – including email alerts, mailers, and social media.

So far this year alone, 1,735 scam calls have been reported by Long Island businesses and homes, with 93 victims handing over money.

“It’s really scary that they’re focusing on businesses; that they get you on the busiest day,” Grasman said.

Businesses are a favorite target because they carry higher balances. PSEG officials said if the caller claims to know your balance, it’s likely a lucky guess – they have no breach of their system.

Grasman advised, “Think first. Take five minutes to get your thoughts together and think first.”

PSEG Long Island said it is optimistic that it is making progress. In the last month, its staff logged 140 scam calls with only three victims falling prey.

More than 100 companies have banded together to form Utilities United Against Scams to educate the public and work with law enforcement to find the origin of the calls.


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