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. ••