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Businessman Foils Scammers

Fraud Alert:

An alert Lake Arrowhead Village businessman turned the tables on a pair of would-be scammers Monday after they posed as employees of Southern California Edison and threatened to cut off his power if he didn’t pay a purportedly overdue bill.


But Harvey Durand, owner of the Tea Coffee Exchange, had paid the bill online and had a confirmation number to prove it, so he pushed back hard against the scheme.

“They were very convincing, trust me,” Durand said, though he was immediately skeptical because of the caller’s heavy accent.

Durand said a call arrived at his business from the “Edison Disconnect Department” at a time when he was away from the store. The caller told Durand’s employee Edison was going to shut off Tea Coffee Exchange’s power because its bill was outstanding.

SPIEL REPEATED

Fearing the possible outcome, the employee gave the caller Durand’s cell phone number, he said, and the caller, who identified himself as “Luis,” contacted the businessman and repeated his spiel.

“I was sitting at my computer when the call arrived,” Durand said. “I pay everything online. I paid the bill four days ago.”

When he told “Luis” he had paid his $1,487 bill four days earlier and had a confirmation number, the caller said there was no record of payment. He added that Edison has had a new policy in effect since Jan. 1 that when bills are four days overdue power is shut off.

“I got hot,” Durand said. “I told him I’ve been an Edison customer for seven years and if they turn off my power I’ll lose all the food in my refrigerators and freezers.”

NO RECORD FOUND

With that, he said, he asked to talk with a supervisor. After a brief pause, another man came on the line and confirmed what “Luis” had said, adding that there was no record in Edison’s system of Durand’s payment.

The “supervisor” told Durand he would submit his contention to Edison’s claims department, but that would take 24 hours to process. He needed to pay before that, Durand was told.

Durand was advised to go to either a CVS or Rite-Aid store and purchase two money packs, one for $500 and the other for $499.80, and to call “Luis” back with the numbers for each.

Though he knows there’s a Rite-Aid in Blue Jay, Durand said “I was playing the game,” and told “Luis” it would take two hours to get to one of the stores and obtain the money packs. He was told to make the transaction and “Luis” would call him back after two hours.

SCAM RECOGNIZED

Durand then called Edison’s customer service line and spoke with a representative, who told him the company was aware of the scam and that three customers had already fallen for it.

“Once you give them your money pack number they can transfer the funds and you’re a dead duck,” Durand said.

True to his word, “Luis” called back in two hours. Durand said he told the man he’d checked with Edison and told him, “you’re a fraud.” “Luis” denied it, Durand said, and told him the shop’s power would be turned off.

“Go ahead,” Durand said he told the man. “They played the game all the way through.” Durand’s power was never affected.

Later, he said, someone from Edison’s security branch called him to ask whether he’d handed over money to the scammers.

When informed of the incident, Edison spokesperson Jennifer Shaw sent an e-mail to the Mountain News, outlining the company’s pertinent policies.

POLICIES CLARIFIED

The e-mail said Edison employees never demand sending the company money via Western Union or a pre-paid credit card to avoid a shutoff and never ask for money, a credit card or the use of a customer’s phone.

Shaw said anyone paying an Edison bill at a business can call (800) 655-4555 to confirm the business is authorized to accept payments.

She cautioned customers never to reveal their credit card, ATM, phone calling card or personal ID numbers to anyone, particularly by phone.

If a customer suspects a scam involving criminals posing as utility employees, Shaw recommends calling law enforcement and reporting the matter to Edison at (800) 655-4555. She added that state law makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to impersonate a utility worker.

Durand said “Luis” had given him a number to call the “Edison Disconnect Department.” That number, (323) 455-3773, was still operational on Wednesday morning, and a man with a heavily accented voice answered when this newspaper called the number.

Article source: http://www.mountain-news.com/news/article_2c1a8dd6-1b37-11e3-a760-0019bb2963f4.html