I live four miles from where Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. The bay, dramatically swollen by rain, wind and storm surge, left three feet of water in the ground floor of my home. We’re slowly cleaning up the mess.
On several occasions, government and agency officials have been on our street to see how we’re making out. City officials were walking around the day after we were allowed to return home. A week later, a man from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) knocked on our door and gave us a flier for disaster assistance. A week after that a woman from the Red Cross stopped by, checking to see if anyone needed services.
Yesterday, we had another visitor. A man wearing a bright yellow safety vest said he was from the utility companies, coming to make sure we received credit on our gas and electric bills for the outages we experienced as a result of the hurricane. He wore a nametag, with his photo on it, from a utility consulting company, and asked to see our bills.
My husband, Terry, came in from outside to find them. He thought it was a bit strange that someone from the utility companies was at our home on a Sunday, but I figured he was coming around when he expected people would be home. We found the bills and stood on the porch, in the cold, as he looked them over. I noticed that the sleeve of his jacket was embroidered with a Verizon logo.
The man pulled out a form and copied down the account number for the electric bill and the gas bill. Then he asked for my date of birth.
“Why do you need my date of birth?” I asked.
“We need it in order to issue you the credit,” he said.
“I’m not giving you my date of birth.”
“Well then you won’t get the credit.”
At this point, Terry had heard enough. “This is not right,” he said. “No one from the utility companies is going to be coming around on a Sunday. We’re not doing this.”
“If that’s what you want,” the man said. And he left.
Ploy to sign the forms
Terry and I believe that the man was working for one of those alternative energy supply companies. His whole spiel about getting us reductions on our gas and electric bills because of the storm was a ploy to get us to sign the forms to switch energy suppliers.
The experience was a reminder of how smoothly some people can lie.
This man presented himself as a concerned utility representative working to get us savings that were due to us. He patiently waited in the cold while we looked for our gas and electric bills, and slowly examined them. When he asked for our information, he sounded like any clerk filling out a form.
And even when we started questioning him, the man never missed a beat, never diverted from his story or his persona. Even when Terry told him, essentially, to get lost, he walked away as if we were the ones losing out.
The man looked us in the eye and lied, with no shame whatsoever. Even knowing what I know about sociopaths, I was still amazed at his cool, calm and brazen performance. No wonder honest people get manipulated.