Watch out for utility scams during the holiday season

As the holidays approach, the Board of Public Utilities is reminding customers to be aware of scammers.

“The utility never calls up and demands immediate payment,” said David Mehlhaff, BPU spokesman.

Recently, a woman at a small business in Kansas City, Kansas, reported receiving a call from a scammer who said she owed money on a utility bill. Suspicious, she hung up and then found out it was a scam call.

“They tend to get a lot more aggressive the closer we get to the holidays, looking to get someone unsuspecting,” Mehlhaff said.

He advised customers who receive these calls asking for money for customers’ utility bills to hang up and call the BPU’s customer service telephone number at 913-573-9190.

Customers who are behind on their BPU bills will get a past due bill notice by the mail, Mehlhaff said. Or if they are signed up for online bill pay, they will receive an email or text letting them know of an outstanding balance.

Unfortunately, because scammers sometimes use “spoofing” technology, it may look like the BPU’s phone number on the customer’s caller ID, but it’s not, he said. The call could be coming from anywhere, he said.

The BPU advises customers not to give out their personal information over the phone, as that is a red flag, he said.

“We’ve been fortunate, we’ve only had one fall for it over the past few years,” Mehlhaff said. “We’re getting the word out to people to hang up and call us.”

Sometimes customers forget whether they have paid their bill or not, and call the utility, letting them know they got a phone call.

“We tell them it’s probably a scam,” Mehlhaff said.

He said utilities nationwide are joining together to fight against scammers.

The BPU is a member of Utilities United Against Scams, a group of more than 100 utilities that shares information to stop scams. There is no cost to the BPU.

“It’s a good way of sharing information,” Mehlhaff said.

The Utilities United Against Scams recently was given the Toll Free Industry’s Fraud Fighter Award for its advocacy and awareness campaign to stop scams.

‘Severe blood shortage,’ Red Cross says

A severe blood shortage is resulting in the American Red Cross urging donors to give blood now.

The Red Cross hopes donors give blood now, which will avoid delays for patients and will stop the shortage from getting worse this winter.

Joe Zydio, a spokesman for the Red Cross, said it is unprecedented for the Red Cross to come out with this type of message at this time of the year. Often, the Red Cross sees a shortage starting in mid-December, leading to emergency appeals Jan. 8, he said.

“This year, we’ve been impacted badly,” Zydio said. Hurricane Florence, in particular, resulted in a shortage of 9,000 to 10,000 donations in the Carolinas, he said.

“There are 21,000 fewer donations” now nationwide, he said. Hurricane Michael also was a factor in the shortage. In addition, there were fewer blood drives in September and October.

With the possibility of snow and busy holidays in the coming months, the Red Cross would like donors to give early.

All blood types are needed, especially type O, and platelet donors. Donors may make an appointment at RedCrossBlood.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). There also is a Red Cross Blood app that will tell donors the closest blood drive.

Two Wyandotte County blood drives are scheduled in the coming weeks, and donors also may donate blood at other mobile locations.

The two upcoming Wyandotte County blood drives include 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at Dave and Buster’s, 1843 Village West Parkway, Kansas City, Kansas; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 8 at Cabela’s, 10300 Cabela Drive, Kansas City, Kansas.

For other locations of blood drives in the area, visit www.redcrossblood.org.

As an incentive for donors, the Red Cross will give away a long-sleeved Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last, to those who donate blood from Nov. 21 to Nov. 24.

NAACP to meet today

The Kansas City, Kansas, Branch of the NAACP will meet on Nov. 13 at 21 N. 12th St., Suite 230, Kansas City, Kansas.

The meeting was changed from Nov. 6 because of Election Day.

The branch election of officers and executive committee will be from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., followed by the regular executive committee meeting at 6 p.m., and the regular membership meeting at 7 p.m.

Members are encouraged to participate in the branch election and regularly monthly meetings.