Taken to the cleaners: Business owner reports green dot utility scam

Photo make-money-fast-rr.com.

Photo make-money-fast-rr.com.

The owner of a Black Rock Tpk. dry-cleaning store reported being the victim of a “Green Dot” utility scam Monday, Dec. 15, police said.

On that afternoon, the owner told police, a well-dressed Hispanic or Indian man in his forties came into the store and told her he represented United Illuminating (UI), and that if she did not pay him $6,000 in back charges within the hour, the store’s power would be shut off. The man was not reported to be wearing a UI uniform.

Later that afternoon, the man, who identified himself only as “William,” phoned the owner, telling her UI had begun to shut down the store’s power, and that late fees had increased the amount owed to $7,300.

The owner put her brother on the phone, and “William” instructed him to go to a particular drug store in Stamford and buy $7,300 in Green Dot cards. The brother complied with the request, and provided “William” with the identification numbers from the cards purchased, only later realizing that “William” was not really a UI employee, and that the store was not in arrears on its electric bill.

The store owner contacted police, who said the phone number given by William had been disconnected, and the victim had no way of recouping the money paid through the cards.

Lt. James Perez of the Fairfield Police Department said this case was more troubling than the more commonly seen telephone or online scams, because here the reported criminal had entered the victim’s premises, raising the possibility of physical danger to the victim.

Contacted about the case, UI spokesperson Michael West said the utility would never send an employee to collect a bill in person, threaten to shut off power immediately, or demand a specific form of payment. He also said  UI workers are always in uniform and travel in vehicles marked with a UI logo.

West said that while this kind of scam is more common in the summer, when electricity use is at its peak, UI warns customers year-round against fraud, and against Green Dot scams in particular, on its website and in literature included in its bills.

West urged UI customers to call the utility “on the spot” when doubtful of a serviceperson’s authenticity, saying UI will either verify the employee’s identity or tell the caller what steps to take to deal with the imposter in the safest and most appropriate way.

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