Small businesses targeted in phone scam

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 settle over­due ac­counts 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 North­east Times 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. 

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 Philly and its Pennsylvania sub­urbs, Arm­strong said on Aug. 22. El­ev­en cus­tom­ers have fallen for the con. 

Twenty-nine of the 54 tries PECO knows about 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,” Arm­strong said.

He ad­ded that the con game seems to ori­gin­ate out­side the United States. There have been no re­ports of ar­rests. 

The scam of­fers con artists easy money. It doesn’t have to be that 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 for PECO, Arm­strong said, and those who re­ceive such calls im­me­di­ately should phone the elec­tric com­pany 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 num­ber, 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 ad­ded 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. ••

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