Harvard, the IRS & Pre-paid Cards – End of a Trilogy

Read parts one & two

Image result for electricity shut off

I live in the kind of town where people share helpful information on Facebook when they are taking breaks from being petty, sending each other nasty anonymous letters, and posting passive-aggressive messages about barking dogs, speeding and ill-mannered kids. So it was no surprise when someone posted an alert about getting a call from someone posing as a local electric company.

The set up went a little something like this: someone calls and provided the potential victim with a different number to call to settle a past due utility account. The call needed to be made right away as a truck was already dispatched to come shut off the electricity. The target of the scam called the number provided and asked for “accounts receivable” as instructed. The person on the other end of the phone then asked the electric company’s customer to settle the bill by going to a local store and buying 2 gift cards of $500 each and calling back upon their return. At that point, the target of the scam realizes something isn’t right and ends the call. Subsequently, they notify the local police department and then posts the ordeal on Facebook as a warning to the rest of us.

I continue to be amazed at how simplistic these cons are and how people continue to fall for them. The entire story is a landmine of red alerts, some of which are intuitive/common sense, others are simply a matter of procedure and being sufficiently informed would have kept this individual from even wasting his time with Conman Connor.

Service Termination: Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations your service providers must follow before they shut off your service. In my state, they are required to notify you in writing on multiple occasions before they cut you off. Two of the main reasons are that you may have forgotten or misplaced a bill and no one deserves this hassle over a simple mistake, and the other reason is because it gets very cold where we live and many of the heating systems require electricity to operate even if the heating source itself is not electric. For example, one of the ways that I can heat my house is with oil, but the oil burner is an electric boiler. That means, even if I have a full oil tank, if there is no electricity, I do not have heat. As a result, the state, in an effort to protect the most vulnerable, established strong consumer protection laws. If you never received past due notices, the chances that a truck was on the way to shut off your service was nearly impossible if not illegal.

Having to call “accounts receivable”: Why didn’t account receivable just call you directly? Or why was the first caller unable to transfer you to accounts receivable? I would imagine that a company with billions in revenue would have an adequate phone system that allows for call transfers and that a customer service representative would be sufficiently trained to use said system to give clients a pleasant experience. I would question the legitimacy of any company calling me and requiring me to do work. If I have to call your accounting department to settle my bill, I’m expecting a discount. And better yet, if I can bother paying my bill, why would you rely on me to call you back? Could it be because I don’t actually owe anything, you are not really providing me with a service and if I never return the call you have nothing to lose?

Gift card requests: (where he finally caught on) This is a common instrument for scammers. Gift cards can be pretty useful even though they cannot be redeemed for cash.  They are hard to trace, there are barely any consumer protections relative to what you get with your bank card and they can be sold online, which is a great way for thieves to unload stolen goods and get clean funds, allowing them to escape responsibility. The gift card once gone, is gone and the charges cannot be disputed. Meanwhile ACH transactions (paying directly from your bank account) and credit card charges, are significantly more difficult to conceal since the banking system is interconnected and all transactions must flow from one institution to another.

In other words, these scammers have fortunately all proven themselves to be lazy, sloppy and frankly not that clever. They aren’t doing much that will successfully outsmart us if we are truly paying attention. Therefore, a little bit of common sense will go a long way in protecting our coins.

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