PECO scam targets small businesses

By John Loftus

Wire Staff Writer

It’s all nonsense, so don’t fall for it.

PECO is warning its small business customers about a scam involving their electric bills. Con artists are threatening some of the utility’s customers that their power will be shut off if they don’t pay overdue bills immediately. Targets of this scam are told to buy debit cards for the amount due and are given phone numbers to call to recite the debit card information. The funds on those cards are soon removed.

If that sounds familiar, it’s only because it is.

This con game has been around awhile. However, scams evolve and targeting small businesses is the new wrinkle on this one.

Late last summer, the Midweek Wire first published stories about this con. At the time, the targets were residential PECO customers with Hispanic names or names that looked like they might be Hispanic. The con artists would speak to the targets in Spanish. And, that’s still going on, said PECO spokesman Ben Armstrong.

Since scammers began contacting PECO customers in 2011, Armstrong said, more than 85 have reported being targeted. Not all fall for this ruse, but the few who did have lost up to $400. For small business customers, the losses have been higher because businesses have more usage and, therefore, bigger bills.

“The amount that customers have been scammed for has increased significantly,” Armstrong said, “from $100 to $400 to now $500 to $2,400.”

This year, there have been 54 attempts at conning the utility’s customers in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, Armstrong said on Aug. 22. Eleven customers have paid. Twenty-nine of the 54 tries have been in Philly, Armstrong said. Although there was a surge in Lower Bucks at the end of 2012, there have been only three so far this year — in Feasterville, Bristol and Levittown. A North Wales customer was the only one contacted in Montgomery County this year.

“The focus of the scammers continues to be southern Chester County and Philadelphia,” he added.

Armstrong said the con game seems to originate out of the country and there have been no reports of arrests.

The scam is likely to continue since it offers con artists such easy money.

It doesn’t have to be easy. Armstrong said anyone who calls to collect a PECO bill should know the name on the account, the address, the account number and the current balance. Anyone who can’t provide that information isn’t likely to be calling from PECO, Armstrong said, and those who receive such calls should immediately phone PECO at 1–800–494–4000.

That’s the “do.” There are a couple “don’ts.” Unless you initiated a call, don’t give out any personal information like Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers. Also, don’t let anyone in your home who claims to be from PECO unless the person can show ID. Call 1–800–494–4000 to confirm the identity.

Armstrong said this electric bill scam is being worked nationwide. He said PECO’s own security department is working with local police departments as well as neighboring utility companies such as PSE&G in New Jersey, BGE in Baltimore and ConED in Chicago.