It’s the holiday season, and just because people tend to be a little bit kinder and a little more giving doesn’t mean scam artists won’t be hard at work.
Evidence of someone trying to rip off a city resident came up again in early December when a Dover Electric Utility customer received a phone call threatening to cut off his electric service if he didn’t pay his bill straightaway.
The call followed a very familiar pattern, said city of Dover spokeswoman Kay Deitz-Sass.
“On Dec. 2, I received a call from a gentleman who had gotten a call where the caller insisted he had to make another payment,” Sass said.
“He was told his last payment had not gone through and that the city needed his bill paid immediately.”
The man was told if he did not pay his bill immediately, his service would be cut off.
The caller told the customer the utility would send him a cashier’s check for the payment he’d made but which had not been processed, Sass said, but in return he would have to make a payment right away over the phone.
To do that, the customer would need to provide a credit card number and other personal information, the caller said.
“Fortunately, the gentleman was comfortable with the fact that his payment actually had gone through, so he hung up and contacted us,” Sass said.
The city conducted its own investigation and verified the customer’s payment had been processed. He was in no danger of losing his electric service, she said.
Phone number not legit
The Dover Post called the supposed utility’s phone number, which the Dover customer had obtained from his caller-ID service.
A recording at that number, (302) 200-4964, identified it as belonging to Delmarva Power, not the city of Dover. The woman on the recording stated no one was available and requested a return call.
Delmarva Power spokesman Nicholas Morici said that number, which an Internet check identified as originating in Lewes, is not a legitimate number for his company.
“If anyone has questions or is uncomfortable, they should call us and we’ll confirm their account and address any questions related to the call that could be a scam,” he said.
Delmarva Electric Coop spokesman Jeremy Tucker said unscrupulous people always are trying to take advantage of others.
“If someone is demanding immediate payment, it’s usually a scam,” he said, adding that like other utilities, the Coop does not disconnect a customer without going through several weeks of working with customers to arrange payments.
“If people receive a call they don’t think is from the Coop, we ask them to contact us immediately,” he said. “We keep track of possible scams and if we think scammers are trying to contact our members, we’ll send out emails warning about them.”
This is not the first time scam artists have tried to intimidate Dover electric customers. In August, city officials learned several people had been told their payments were overdue and that electric service would be cut off unless an immediate payment was made.
At the same time, Delaware State Police reported businesses were being contacted with the same story. That, too, was a scam.
Sometimes, instead of asking for credit card information, the scam artists will instruct their targets to pay bills using Green Dot MoneyPak cards.
The MoneyPak cards are legitimate, but scammers love them because they are untraceable and can be bought at any number of stores. The customer buys the card with cash and gives the supposed utility representative the card’s serial number. The scammer uses that information to clean out any cash in the card’s account.
In general, law enforcement authorities remind people to be extremely wary of any calls soliciting money, particularly if the caller is demanding immediate payment.
People never should give out unsolicited personal information and never should wire or transfer money unless they are sure of where it is going.
“What people in Dover should know is that the city will never contact customers to request their credit card information for electric bills or any other form of billing,” Sass said.
“We would hate to see anyone fall victim to a scam, but this time of year makes it much worse.”