NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC/AP) - Officials say more than 500 Dominion Virginia Power customers in Hampton Roads and northern North Carolina have been contacted by scammers who threaten to disconnect their service unless they immediately pay through a prepaid debit card.

The scammers are clever and use caller ID spoofing software so a customer thinks they are actually receiving a call from Dominion, but Dominion officials said in a statement that the company never threatens their customers nor demands a specific form of payment.

Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris says customers reported $1.2 million in utility scam requests in 2015. Those who fell victim paid nearly $20,000.

Officials say elderly people and those in non-English-speaking communities are especially vulnerable. Anyone who has received a suspicious call should alert police or Dominion at 866-DOM-HELP.

Virginia Natural Gas is also warning customers of similar scams, and gives these tips on how to spot them:

Red flags for scam activity

  • The individual becomes angry and tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn’t made – usually within less than an hour.
  • The individual instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back to supposedly make a payment to the company.
  • The individual asks the customer for the prepaid card’s receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds.

How to protect yourself

  • Whenever a field service representative or one of our contractors visits your home or business, they will provide Virginia Natural Gas identification. If you have further concerns, please contact customer care at 1- 866-229-3578 to confirm that a representative has been scheduled to perform work at your premises.
  • When a customer service representative contacts you by phone regarding the status of your account or to discuss payment, they will identify that they are a Virginia Natural Gas employee.
  • If you want to verify that the call is legitimate, request to have the representative confirm information about your account that only you and the company would know, including the date of your last payment, the amount of your last payment and your account number.
  • Virginia Natural Gas will never demand payment by one method such as prepaid debit /ATM card or checking account.
  • Any customer who has doubts about the legitimacy of any call from Virginia Natural Gas, especially one in which payment is requested should call us directly. If you feel uncomfortable and know you have an outstanding balance that needs to be resolved, hang up and call us directly.