Northeast Times

Beware of PECO scam

A scam that in­volves fool­ing PECO cus­tom­ers in­to pay­ing con artists, not the util­ity, for sup­posedly out­stand­ing elec­tric bills seems to be a hustle that gets new vig­or as time passes.

Oc­to­ber, for ex­ample, was a busy month for the scheme, said PECO spokes­man Ben Arm­strong. The util­ity knows of 109 at­tempts at it dur­ing Oc­to­ber. Since Novem­ber 2011, there have been a total of 269 tries throughout PECO’s mul­ticounty ser­vice ter­rit­ory, Arm­strong said, and, since late 2012, 169 of them tar­geted Phil­adelphi­ans.

Here’s how it works:

Grift­ers call PECO cus­tom­ers and tell them their power will be turned off with­in the hour if they don’t im­me­di­ately pay an out­stand­ing bill. The marks are dir­ec­ted to buy deb­it cards for the amounts they’re told are due, and then to call a num­ber they’re giv­en and read the cards‘ num­bers to who­ever an­swers. Need­less to say, the amounts on those cards are drained.

Most of the people tar­geted see through the ruse, es­pe­cially if they’re sure they paid their elec­tric bills, but the phony PECO reps have man­aged to col­lect more than $22,000 from those who truly be­lieved they’d lose their elec­tri­city if they didn’t do what they were told.

In Philly, 24 vic­tims have been cheated out of more than $11,000 since late 2012, Arm­strong said. Typ­ic­ally, they shelled out any­where from $50 to $1,500, he ad­ded. The largest amount the bad char­ac­ters got was $2,406.66, he said.

The primary tar­gets ini­tially were people who had His­pan­ic or His­pan­ic-sound­ing sur­names, Arm­strong had said last year. A con artist would call a per­son with a His­pan­ic name and re­cite his come-on in Span­ish. If the per­son an­swer­ing spoke only Eng­lish, the con would pro­ceed in heav­ily ac­cen­ted Eng­lish.

That shif­ted earli­er this year, ac­cord­ing to Arm­strong. The scam­mers have been tar­get­ing all of the util­ity’s cus­tom­ers.

Around here, the hustle began in Chester County, but Arm­strong said it’s been at­temp­ted all over Philly and the oth­er sub­urb­an counties PECO serves as well as in every oth­er area of the coun­try. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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PECO
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Ben Armstrong