Woman loses $1,400 to scam by fake Avista workers


SPOKANE, Wash. -A woman was scammed out of $1,400 dollars by multiple men and a woman pretending to work with Avista on Wednesday.

Sharon "Rene" Peterson is the owner of Rene's Salon. She was at work when she heard her phone ring, looked at her phone's caller ID and saw "Avista." She picked up, then a man let her know the salon's power would be shut off within the next hour. The only way to avoid it would be to pay off the delinquent balance, according to the man.

When she asked to be transferred to the billing department, she was put on hold until another man began telling her the same thing: if she didn't pay, her power would be shut off.

"My brain just kind of froze and I said that can't be," Peterson said.

Peterson didn't believe him, but several factors led to what she calls "the perfect storm."

First, her salon's electricity had been turned off earlier in the day because maintenance was being done near power lines.

Second, the man on the phone claimed she was sent several notices that warned her of nonpayment. She hadn't seen anything from Avista, but mail had been stolen recently in her small neighborhood.

"He said, 'Have you had mail problems in your area?' Well, I remember emails being sent out that said, 'Watch out because there's mail being stolen,'" Peterson said.

Third, two clients were already at her salon. Peterson said telling her customers to leave and come back at another time didn't align with her business philosophies.

"My first, and foremost, thing is taking care of my client. That's partly where I get a little out of balance," she said.

Fourth, one of the men started sharing details with her that she thought was too specific: her home address, information about her business, etc.

Those are the main factors that compelled Peterson to follow the directions of the callers. They told her the electricity to her salon would be cut off because the disconnection "was already in the system." For immediate processing in her account, the man told her she needed cash.

"Getting cash is really, really.... I mean, I would tell people don't do that," she said.

One of the men on the phone said she would need to transfer the cash into MoneyPak cards, which are prepaid cards that can be bought at retail store. Then, the man said, she could give the card's codes to him.

Peterson bought the cards from a local Rite Aid, headed back to her car, and then one of the store's employee's rushed out to warn her that he'd seen scams like this before.

That was the last hurdle of hesitation for Peterson, who regrettably gave the card's codes to the caller.

Peterson later called Avista and was notified there was never a problem with her account. She said she wished she would've hung up and called them directly in the first place.

While she said her circumstances are admittedly both unique and specific, Peterson hopes her story will help others avoid losing money.

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