AG Gansler Warns Commercial Property Owners About Utility Scam
Bogus caller tells consumers to pay for "GPS meter" or lose electricity service
Don't fall for it: Scammers attempt to collect money via Greendot prepaid cards
Baltimore, MD (January 9, 2014) - In an effort to protect Marylanders from the ever-expanding reach of scammers, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today cautioned commercial property owners about a new ruse that attempts to trick them into making a large payment to maintain their electricity service.
"This is a new twist on an old scam, but it proves that scammers know no bounds when it comes to deceiving consumers and getting money they don't deserve," said Attorney General Gansler. "Commercial property owners should exercise caution and make sure to verify any unsolicited calls asking for money before paying anything."
Here's how the scam works: A caller claiming to represent an electricity provider -- Pepco, BGE and others have all reported these types of scams - contacts a business owner saying the state has mandated all commercial properties to have a new "GPS meter" installed at a cost of about $500 (the amount can vary). The caller indicates that the payment must be made within 30 minutes before a technician arrives to replace the old meter, and that the business will have no power if they don't pay. Business owners are instructed to send the $500 deposit via a Green Dot MoneyPak card, a reloadable debit card purchased at a local retail store that has a unique serial number used to transfer funds to a debit card possessed by the scammer (Green Dot cards themselves are legitimate products when used properly). The scammers use "spoofing" technology so that the utility company's phone number appears on caller ID, making it appear like a legitimate call from the utility.
This scheme is the newest form of a familiar scam, which has previously targeted residential customers who are told that their electric service will be shut off unless they make an immediate Green Dot payment or another type of immediate payment option. Most reputable companies - utility or other sectors -- will never require a specific or single form of payment that a consumer must use and many utilities will not accept Green Dot payments.
"Safety is our top priority, and we want to advise our customers to verify the identity of anyone claiming to represent Pepco," said Donna Cooper, Pepco region president. "We've told customers since this scam surfaced a couple of years ago that when addressing past due accounts, Pepco never endorses a specific form of payment. Instead, we offer multiple payment options to customers."
"At BGE, safety is a top priority and we encourage all customers to be vigilant about their safety in their homes and businesses, especially when it comes to utility imposters," said Christie McMullen, vice president of support services and chief safety officer for BGE. "Customers should not provide any type of payment or financial information in response to this 'Green Dot' scam and should hang up immediately. If customers are contacted as part of this scam, the company asks them to call local law enforcement and the BGE Customer Contact Center immediately at 800-685-0123."
Attorney General Gansler also advised residential and commercial consumers that they should always verify the identity and affiliation of an individual claiming to represent a certain company, particularly if the caller is requesting an immediate payment. Consumers should never volunteer personal information to an unknown caller; instead, they should ask the caller for the name on the account, the account address and other identifying information that would help determine if the caller is legitimate.
Consumers who receive suspicious calls like this should notify local law enforcement and the electricity provider with whom the caller claims to represent. They can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP.