Tag Archives: Utility Scams

Watch out for fake utility workers

It seems like as good a time as any to once again remind everyone to beware of burglars posing as utility company workers.

The usual setup starts with a knock on the door. The person standing on your doorstep claims to work for the electric or gas company, telephone company, or some other utility. They tell you they are in your neighborhood working on some or other problem, or performing routine maintenance, and ask to be shown to your circuit breaker (or whatever piece of hardware makes sense). Often they’ll even look like a real utility company employee, with a clipboard, nametag and possibly even a uniform.

While you’re showing them to the circuit breaker-or-whatever, an accomplice you didn’t see slips into your house looking for valuables or money.

It doesn’t really matter which type of company they claim to represent, the important thing to remember is that if a utility provider is going to need access to the inside of your house (which they almost never will), they will contact you ahead of time. They will not show up unannounced.

If someone is at your door and you were not contacted in advance, ask to see a badge or official identification, which they should gladly provide. Then politely ask them to wait while you close your door, lock it, lock any other doors, and call the utility company to ask if they’ve sent people to your house. Whatever you do, don’t let them in or call them out on being a crook. This type of scam differs from most in that it involves actual, physical proximity to the perpetrators, which can put you in danger of bodily harm.

Utility worker scams often target senior citizens, so make sure your friends, family and neighbors are aware of this type of crime, what to watch for and how to respond.

Non-electronic scams are still a threat

A lot of the articles I write concern scams and fraud that in some way depend on electronic communications (email or websites) to function. Nigerian 419 scammers have probably saved thousands of dollars on postage since the widespread adoption of email.

However, not all scams occur online.

Just this week, I heard about two separate cases locally. One was an elderly person who let two men who claimed to be from the power company enter his home. They quickly found a large stash of cash in the victim’s bedroom.

There was also the case of a person just out of high school who got a letter in the mail tell him he’d won the lottery. He ended up wiring just under $2,900 to a criminal overseas.

The home entry scam almost always targets elderly victims who live alone. If this sounds like your relative, neighbor or friend, you need to warn them about this type of robbery. Make sure they know never to let anyone in without seeing identification and confirming the visit with the power company (or whoever claims to be visiting). Also, encourage them to keep their money somewhere other than inside their house. I know there’s been a recession lately, but 1929 was a very long time ago, and we have FDIC and NCUA insurance in case of a major meltdown. Perhaps we should ask this most recent victim which turned out to be safer: keeping his money in a financial institution or in his house.

A lottery scam is a lottery scam, and it doesn’t matter if the message is in your inbox or on paper. I think a lot of people know about the email version of the Nigerian 419 scam, but when it shows up on paper, they let their guard down. It’s sort of the opposite of 15 years ago, when everybody immediately trusted everything that showed up in an email.

I wish there was a statistic on email vs. paper Nigerian 419 scam success rates. I’d be willing to bet the paper version actually snags more victims. Just remember that it doesn’t matter what form it takes, it’s always fraud.

Yet another type of scam that targets the elderly: home repair/utility scams

Wednesday’s edition of the NWI Times had an article called “Lansing police warning of scam against elderly.” It’s specific to one incident in one location, but the lessons apply to everyone.

This is another con that’s been around forever and is currently experiencing a resurgence. A group of people (usually three men) shows up at your door, claiming to represent a utility company or similar. While two crooks distract the homeowner by “checking the utility box” or something, the other searches the house for cash and valuables.

To me, this is a far worse situation than wiring money to a thief overseas, even though your monetary losses may be smaller. I mean, these people are in your house. If you’ve let them in, then suddenly realize your mistake, and they know you’ve figured them out, you could be in real, immediate, physical danger. A frightened criminal is a dangerous criminal.

Crooks pulling this con usually concentrate on the elderly, so make sure your parents, grandparents, and others know not to let anyone in their house who just shows up on their doorstep, no matter who they claim to be.

If a group of people shows up at your door, asking to be let in to “check” something, politely decline and close and lock your door. If you think there’s the remotest possibility that they might be telling the truth, call the utility company and ask. However, since real utility companies almost never operate in this manner, I’d call the police instead. If they’re really from the utility company, two things will be true:

  1. They won’t run away the second you shut the door
  2. They’ll understand why you reacted as you did, and will be able to prove that they are who they claim to be.

Stay vigilant out there, and make sure any elderly people in your family or neighborhood know about this scheme.