Portland-area law enforcement officials are warning of a telephone scam threatening Central Maine Power customers with disconnection unless they pay their electric bills with prepaid cards.

Residential electricity customers are protected from immediate disconnection during the winter, and power companies never demand payment with prepaid cards, CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said.

“This is not new, scammers have been doing this for years, we have been warning about this for years,” Rice said. “We have recently had an uptick in calls about it.”

The Yarmouth Police Department posted on Facebook that residents and businesses in that town had been victimized by callers posing as CMP employees and saying their account is overdue and that power will be shut off within hours. The call may appear to originate from CMP and callers may seem to have customer information, Yarmouth police said.

The scammers say the bill cannot be paid with a credit card or wire transfer and will demand payment with a Moneypak Green Dot card, possibly at a Rite Aid, police said. Callers will be directed to call “Billing/Finance Manager” Eddie Ortiz or George Lewis at a 1-888 number and read the prepaid card numbers over the phone to them.

Maine power companies have to notify customers in a letter or email if they are risking disconnection and will perform a site visit with company vehicles and identification.

“Please remember that CMP will NEVER ask you to use Green Dot cards to pay your bill, and will also never contact you and ask you to call them back on a different number. In addition, CMP must seek permission from the Public Utilities Commission to cancel anyone’s power during the period of Nov. 15 through April 15,” police said.

Businesses are not protected from winter disconnection like residential customers, but power companies still have to notify customers and do a site visit before disconnecting power, Rice said.

“The red flag is the immediate demand, when they give a call-back number that is not our number that is a red flag, (customers) shouldn’t pay it, they should hang up,” she said.

There has been no breach of personal information at CMP as far as she knows, but scammers can be very good at manipulating people to give up personal information.

“Most customers see this for what it is, which is a scam, but some people do get taken in,” Rice said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire