By John Loftus
Wire Staff Writer
Scams never die. They just fade away for a while — but just a while.
During the summer, the Midweek Wire reported con artists were targeting PECO customers with Latino surnames. In the past month and a half, 35 people have reported the scam to the utility, a spokesman said.
The paper reported Spanish-speaking callers told their intended victims that they have overdue account balances and that their power will be turned off if they don’t immediately pay what’s owed. They’re instructed to buy prepaid debit cards for the amounts due, call another phone number and recite the numbers on the debit cards.
A few PECO customers in Northeast Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs reported the scam to the utility, spokesman Ben Armstrong said in August. However, he said, the con seemed to be focused in Chester County.
It’s back there, too, Armstrong said last week, but he knows of customers who recently have reported it in Bucks and Montgomery counties as well. Ten people have actually fallen for it and have lost from $100 to almost $500, Armstrong said.
Although Armstrong has no information that the con artist or con artists have been speaking Spanish this time, Spanish is what links the victims.
“We believe those who have been scammed are all of Latino descent,” he said.
In the summer most of the bogus calls originated in the 718 area code, Armstrong said. Currently, they’re coming from many different areas, although none originate in the 215 area code, he added.
There’s a good reason people shouldn’t be victimized by this scam, Armstrong said.
“We are never going to tell customers to go to a drug store or a convenience store to get prepaid debit cards to pay their bills,” he said in a phone interview. “There is no reason for us to tell them to do that.”
Anyone who does just isn’t on the up and up.
Armstrong said he has no direct knowledge of how widespread the scam is but he has learned other utilities’ customers have been harder hit than PECO’s.
The utility does call customers when they have balances due and does tell them if they are in danger of having their power turned off, Armstrong said. They’ll be warned in letters, and they’ll get calls 72 hours and 24 hours before shutoffs.
Anyone who does call from PECO should know the exact name on an overdue account, the account address, the account’s number and exactly what the current balance is, Armstrong said.
If a caller doesn’t have this information, he’s likely not calling from PECO. Anyone who gets a suspicious call like this shouldn’t fall for it and instead should report it to PECO at 1–800–494–4000 and report it to police, he said.
John Loftus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org