FREEHOLD – Scammers are turning their attention to business owners across Monmouth County, seeking to frighten and intimidate unsuspecting citizens and steal their cash, warns Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
A recent scam has a business owner or office manager getting a phone call or visit from a con artist posing as an employee of Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L). The scam follows along the same basic line of fear and intimidation: you are advised you are past due on a bill, you are threatened with having your power shut-off and you are given the opportunity to “pay” your bill within a brief period of time to avoid any embarrassment or work stoppages.
The scammer will insist or demand direct payment be made using a pre-paid debit card such as a Green Dot or MoneyPak card, reloadable debit cards or gift cards. This is the red flag that you are dealing with a con artist and not a genuine representative of a legitimate company.
“Unfortunately we have been down this road in the past, but it bears repeating over and over again. No legitimate business is going to demand anyone make a payment over the phone using a pre-paid debit card. No legitimate business is going to show up on your doorstep demanding payment immediately with cash or pre-paid debit cards. It is just not going to happen, and if it does you are being scammed,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni explained.
Recently, a local business received a phone call from a woman posing as a representative of JCP&L. The impostor advised the business owner that its account was past due nearly $1,200 and that payment was due immediately or power would be shut off. After a brief discussion the scammer on the phone agreed to give the business owner 30 minutes to acquire pre-paid debit cards (usually a GreenDot, MoneyPak or similar prepaid cards) in the amount owed. The caller reiterated the threat to turn off the power in 30 minutes if that payment was not made promptly.
“It is important to note that the callers all sound real. They are well-spoken, polite. They all sound very professional. They have all your account information, personal information, everything they need to sound and feel legitimate, but they are not – they are scammers,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni said.
The business owner traveled to a nearby drug store chain where the pre-paid debit cards were purchased and loaded with the amount of the “past due bill.” The business owner called back to the number provided by the impostor claiming to be with JCP&L and made the “payment” over the phone by providing the account numbers on the back of the pre-paid cards. It was at that moment that the business owner was swindled – the scammer was successful.
But it didn’t end there. A short time after that transaction, a man claiming to be a representative of JCP&L called the business again stating the business had a nearly $1,500 past due amount on its account and the same 30 minute threat for shut off. The business owner refused to pay the second amount to the scammer and called police.
“We live in a day and age where you must be vigilant about your surroundings and about the people with whom you will interact during the course of your everyday. Unfortunately you must start every interaction with cautious skepticism because there are fraudsters out there – the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni cautioned.
Scammers are becoming increasingly more brazen with their attempts to scam people out of their hard-earned cash. For several years, unscrupulous operators have been working to gain entry into residential properties disguised as utility workers and other people you might expect to be visited by during the course of the day. Once inside the home these predators are taking advantage of homeowners with demands for payment to avoid shot-offs or they are burglarizing homes right before your eyes.
“JCP&L will not call or email to demand immediate payment or threaten imminent shutoff,” said Anthony Hurley, JCP&L vice president of Operations. “Our employees typically only visit a home in response to a service request. Employees also always carry photo identification, wear uniforms and drive clearly marked vehicles. We urge all customers to remain vigilant against con artists who claim to be associated with our company.”
JCP&L, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy, does not demand nor require payment over the phone via specific means, like using Green Dot cards or any other pre-paid debit card.
Anyone who suspects they have received a scam call should contact their local police department.
JCP&L also urges any customer who has doubts about a call from someone claiming to be from JCP&L, especially one demanding immediate payment, to call JCP&L’s customer service number at 1-800-662-3115.
JCP&L has an informative website to assist consumers with recognizing scams. Please visit https://www.firstenergycorp.com/scam-info
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