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Brattleboro Police report a phone scam

If you believe you’ve been approached by phone- or Internet-based scammers, file a consumer complaint with the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program at www.uvm.edu/consumer or at 800-649-2424.

BRATTLEBORO—Area police report a new phone scam is circulating through the area.

The scammers, said Brattleboro Police in an Aug. 19 press release, claim to represent Green Mountain Power. The caller claims that unless they receive an in-person money transfer, the GMP customer’s electricity will be turned off.

Police advise anyone receiving such a call not meet with the caller or give the caller money. Instead, call Green Mountain Power directly to confirm account status, and then report the scam attempt to authorities.

Peggy McAllister, dispatcher for the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, confirms her department had received complaints of a similar phone scam.

The sheriff’s department contracts with 14 towns and villages in Windham County lacking their own police forces.

She said the scam calls have been going on for a while. Crooks tried a similar scam a few months ago, but the calls died down. Now, it seems, they’ve started back up.

One previous scammer even called a business that generated its own electricity.

“That’s totally not what we do,” said GMP corporate spokesperson Dorothy Schnure.

In the event a customer fails to pay multiple bills, GMP may consider turning off the customer’s electricity, Schnure said.

Should this happen, she explained, the company follows a strict procedure that includes an official notice in the mail notifying the customer of GMP’s decision, a timeline for shutting off the power, and a timeline for restoring power once the account has been paid.

Schnure said the company received inquiries on Monday from customers across the state who had received the phony billing calls.

Schnure said that information she’s seen included calls from a number of restaurant owners, many of whom were current on their bills. The scammers made the owners feel that their business was threatened.

“It’s all so easy to scare people,” said Schnure. “That’s cruel.”

Echoing the police department’s press release, she said that people should not meet with the scammers or pay them money: instead, she advised, call the police.

As Schnure understands it, the scammers “have been very rude” in their conversations with GMP customers.

Phone scams like this one crop up from time to time, said Schnure, adding that GMP heard from a number of customers a few months ago about similar scam calls.

GMP handed the issue to the police, she said.

Customers who think they may have received a phony phone call can call GMP at 888-835-4672.

“There are a whole host of phone scams that are active currently,” said Jason Duquette-Hoffman, consumer assistant program coordinator with the state attorney general’s consumer assistance program.

Duquette-Hoffman estimates that a similar phone scam, targeting businesses, ran about a month ago.

The scammers’ prime intent is persuading people to wire money, he said.

According to Duquette-Hoffman, phone scams are the most common and consistent consumer complaint in Vermont and nationwide.

“It’s impossible to tell if [this week’s calls] are the same people,” he said.

Many scammers take advantage of voice-over-Internet technology, such as Google Voice, or hard-to-trace disposable cell phones. A scammer could be calling in from a tropical beach but appear, technically, as though they were calling from within Vermont, he said.

Duquette-Hoffman said such scams appear in “clusters of activity.”

One cluster connects to Jamaican organized crime in the Montego Bay and Kingston, Jamaica. The organized crime organizations have used local call centers to place the fraudulent calls, or coerce people into making the calls.

“There’s a lot of variability” in whether the people making the calls know that they’re fake, said Duquette-Hoffman.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #217 (Wednesday, August 21, 2013).

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