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Reminder of the brazen lies

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.


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22 Comments on "Reminder of the brazen lies"

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This sounds like identity theft to me.

Scam artists come out in droves after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Why would he need to look at your bills? All that information is on a computer system some place. The information is backed up in case of a disaster. That’s standard practice, especially for an outfit as large as a utility company, which would know what power outages to do confidential data.

Any legitimate worker would not need to know if “you have been given the proper credit” or see your bills. That kind of information would be handled in a central office somewhere. Credit is an accounting activity is processed on a computer, not by going door-to-door.

What kind of personal information is on your bills?

Just as legitimate companies send you notices that they would never send you an email asking you for your confidential information, neither would they have somebody knocking on your door asking for it. I’ve never given my birth date to a utility company. No company has asked me for that (except for health insurance providers and health insurance companies.)

Assuming that this guy was legit (which I seriously doubt,) he’d have your information. At best, he’d ask you to look at it to confirm that it is accurate, but that is ludicrous given backed-up computer systems.

Did you report this guy to the police or at least check with them so find out who should be working in the area?

Did you call the utlity company to let them know what this guy said and ask them if he works for them? They can confirm if they sent anybody, and if they didn’t, they will issue a warning alerting their customers of the scam.

Check their website. If they are doing this, there should be notice somewhere.

Everything that you described, the embroidered jacket and ID badge, can be made by anyone these days. It doesn’t take much.

When in doubt, check with the company.

Donna,
if it smells like a skunk, it is a skunk.
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/07/utility_payment_scam_zaps_thou.html

http://www.snopes.com/fraud/identity/utilitybill.asp

No they weren’t trying to get you to switch energy companies, they are just trying to steal your identity.

Did you check with the utility company and/or the police so if it is a scam, they can warn others?

As a follow-up, identity thieves are very sophisticated.

One of the tricks that they use is to look over somebody’s shoulder who is using an ATM or other pinpad device. They can photograph what is going on. You won’t see the camera.

You would have no way of knowing if this individual photographed your utility bills.

By checking with your utility company, they can either alleviate your fears (the guy does work for them and this is what he does) or they can put an alert on your account in case any unusual activity starts to happen with it.

I agree, it’s OK to trust, but also understand how much that trust is exploited by scam artists.

Trust needs to be earned, not automatically given.

Legitimate companies would rather that you asked. They want you to be reassured regarding their diligence and competence. They do not want unethical or illegal acts associated with their names.

From what you described, this person did many things that were untrustworthy.

Donna,
It seems to me that this guy’s con was very similar to the ones in the articles. He was saying that someone else was going to take responsibility for a portion of your bills.

I do hope that you alert the police so they can get the word out.

The whole time I was with the spath I was making up excuses for his odd behavior. He didn’t even have to bother making them up, I was actually better at it than he was!

We need to stop that. We need to stop trying to see the best in people who don’t have any “best”.

Donna, ACK!!! What a good article and it speaks directly to vulnerabilities and scam artists. When are people most likely to buy into a scam? Why, when they’re vulnerable, right? And, everyone north of Beasley’s Point is vulnerable, especially the folks on the barrier islands.

I’m so glad that you and Terry sorted this guy out in short order and sent him packing!!!

Brightest blessings

Nice, Skylar, “We need to stop trying to see the best in people who don’t have any ‘best’.”

What I have learned over the years is that while I work in “business,” most people don’t. Consequently, they do not have access or knowledge how “business” works. That is not a criticism or a put down. It’s simple a statement of fact. How are people going to know unless they work in “business” or have had exposure to how things are done elsewhere?

I am referring to large companies, such as my current one that is a worldwide force. We have very sophisticated policies and systems. There is much that would be vulnerable if we were not diligent about protecting our assets and data.

Not everybody works. Some people can’t and some people choose to stay at home. Some people work in environments that insulate them from how “business” works, such as in schools, hospitals, small businesses, franchises that operate as a small business, or for themselves etc. They are not exposed to how “big companies” operate.

It has been my experience that most people in situations that aren’t “business” don’t want to cause problems, rock the boat, or make a big deal out of nothing. They do not want to look foolish or waste somebody’s time. Understandably, they do not have the training to know if something is important enough, but nobody would treat their concerns with indifference.

I happen to work in regulatory compliance, quality assurance, system analysis, and root cause analysis. “Business” jumps on these things right away because it doesn’t take much to make a huge mess or cause a disaster. Companies work hard to create their reputations. It doesn’t take much to destroy them. Recuperating from a tarnished image is very difficult.

Nobody is looking foolish or wasting our time. We would rather know than miss something that is possible serious. Besides, customers are our reason for being. We need them and we respond to them.

In fact, depending on the situation, there are some events that we stop everything and jump on the matter immediately. The speed with which some things can spread and cause harm is amazing.

Fortunately, most issues turn out to be nothing. That information is not worthless. It teaches us what is happening, what is benign, what is normal, and what is probably not an issue. We learn what a “normal” report looks and sounds like.

It’s the out-of-the-norm or unknown that tips us off to look deeper. Statements that are some how off or otherwise not what we usually get raise flags. Without the norm, we wouldn’t have a guideless to just what is not normal. So as much as it might look that what turns out to be nothing is worthless, it is still valuable.

False alarms do not bother us (unless they are done deliberately, which is another matter; a person cannot maliciously interrupt a company’s normal business activities.)

If somebody reports something in good faith, and it turns out that there was nothing wrong, that teaches us that we need to educate our customers and/or employees better or make our announcements more effective or more timely.

At the same time, companies sometimes make mistakes or drop the ball. Nobody is perfect.

There is never anything “wrong” with reporting something unless the report is made with malicious intent.

For example, pulling a fire alarm for “fun” is a crime because it means resources are responding to a non-existent event when a real situation may occur thus making the resources unavailable and possible risking life.

Bad guys don’t wear black hats. Everything is treated equally. You don’t know what you are dealing with until you investigate.

It doesn’t mean we distrust everybody. It means, as I said earlier, that trust is earned.

There are laws protecting personal information. This guy’s behavior is out of synch with those laws. If a legitimate company told him to do this, then that company is breaking the law either deliberately or unintentionally. Regardless, those laws are in place to protect the consumer and businesses and maintain the confidentiality of all.

There is a thread here about cognitive dissonance. What company is going to step forward to cover some of your bills? Past bills? Why should they be covered? Who has that kind of money?

We know the prevalence of Ps.

Yea, him wanting your DOB makes me think it was an identity theft thing rather than a green energy company trying to get you to switch carriers. I would telephone the police and let them know what is going on and maybe your local TV station news as well and maybe they can warn others about these scammers before someone less sharp than you and Terry get scammed.

The DOB was the boundary test question. Finding someone’s birth date is pretty easy if you have her home address and her name. If Donna had given the answer, the next question would have been, “what is your ss #?” Spaths always test boundaries first.

For him to respond with, “Well then you won’t get the credit.” is a huge red flag. A real rep from the utilities would have given options for submitting the information and assurances that the company cares about your security.

G1S:

I also worked in QA and compliance at a major pharmaceutical company. Very highly regimented environment.

With a DOB, a person can find out all sorts of things
about another. It should be as guarded as all the rest
of our personal information.

One thing about “IT”…
after repeatedly asking me my DOB,
aw, shucks, it sort of got away with out it.

Like skylar says: anyone can find out pretty much
anything about another if that person wants to.

Theft rings steal mail that you never even know you are missing.
Psychopaths go even further and deeper into their ‘planning’.

If you are in question of anyone at your door,
do not open it; speak through the door.

Safety first.
Questions later.

There are people from an alternative energy company who go door to door in my city about once a month soliciting switchovers from the “big” natural gas company.

They don’t identify what company they work for and immediately demand a copy of your last gas statement. They lie, they cajole, they “fast talk”, they get belligerent and don’t like taking no for an answer.

They’re trained to operate this way. I can’t imagine how many unsuspecting (especially elderly) people signed up for something they didn’t even understand.

Dupey, yeah…..and, there was a program that I saw a few months ago that followed a couple of “gypsy” businessmen who would buy a truckload of asphalt and go door-to-door to sell it to homeowners for their driveways at a huge profit. It was an on-the-spot sales pitch and some of these homeowners would actually whip out their checkbooks and write out a 10K check to have their driveways paved all at one time. Now, there was no remedy if the driveway crumbled a month later because the work had been faulty, but some of these folks TRUSTED these men, implicitly.

Yah….you’re spot-on! “Savety first. Questions later!”

Brightest blessings

I’m horrified that alternative energy companies are going around trying to scam people. I don’t know what they hope to gain by tarnishing their name, other than a quick buck, a scam of the minute, with zero longevity. Ugh.
Thanks to both Skylar and Donna for bringing up the salient point that we often do the work for these people! We justify things that are out of place and make excuses for them rather than seeing them for the flags that they are! I know that I do this, but at least I’m catching myself more often now, and I can always, always use the reminder!

People used to be prosecuted for these kind of crimes. Now the law does not care. The law is no longer about truth and justice but about who can win the most cases regardless of guilt or innocence.

Do psychopaths just get attracted to law school or does law school create psychopaths? My niece dropped out of law school after the first semester because she said they teach you how not to think.

Donna,

I think you may have been lucky to come across ethical people previously. My experience is that they will do anything to make the deal.

The company sent people (I feel confident there’s more than one “representative” running around) to your area so soon after a natural disaster. It’s called “Disaster Capitalism”. Nasty guy, nasty business. I’m very sorry. This kind of wretchedness doesn’t help during difficult times.

I hope you and yours are doing well.

These guys with their clipboards come around regularly in my neighborhood (a town in PA, west of Philly), which has a lot of non-native English speakers and just general po’ folk. I wonder how many have been deceived.

I allowed myself to lose it on the last one. “If you’re from one of those energy supply people, I am NOT INTERESTED. I am HAPPY WITH MY ENERGY. I also have a MIGRAINE RIGHT NOW.”

In a soft voice, he gave me the line about seeing if my bill had changed after the disaster.

This was easy, because I pay the bill every month online. I informed him, still using my all-caps voice, that we had gotten our bill since the hurricane; that it was exactly the same as the one before; and that I was fine, and also, goodbye.

I really hope I develop a reputation among these people as the crazy, angry migraine lady in apt. #___.

Even supposedly “green” or “alternative” energy companies have to make a buck too…funny thing is they dont’ string new wires for electric or new pipes for gas or water, it is just a different billing system and they get a cut…back here we have the “alternative” phone companies for land lines. I am so frustrated with them all that I finally had my land line taken out.

It was with AT&T but they kept screwing up the bill (double billing) and I tried to reach 1-800-GIVEASHIAT and never could get anyone who A) spoke English or B) cared. I went to the AT&T store and tried to talk to the person who sold me the land line and screwed up the billing in the first place, but they told me they only SOLD the stuff, that I’d have to call 1-800-GIVEASHIAT again, so after 3 months of the double billing not being straightened out, and HOURS on the phone trying to find someone to fix the problem, I just canceled the land line.

I realize I am not going to bankrupt AT&T by canceling, but if enough people do it maybe tey will get the idea. For years I was getting $1.50-$2 on my bill for TEXTING…my son and I do NOT text at all….and I would go over the itemized bill and there would be texting charges and I would get them removed off our bill…this was EVERY month so I had the texting BLOCKED on our account. Well, not long after that, I read where there was a big CLASS ACTION law suuit against AT*T and Sprint (I think it was) for doing this to MILLIONS OF CUSTOMERS, customers, that I imagine that 99.9% of just paid the bill and didn’t look at it charge by charge like this old skin-flint does.

Let’s see 5 zilliion customers at $2 fraudulent charges per customer per month = $9.9999 Zillion extra bucks! (minus my $2) Tell me it was an accidental charge. LOL ROTFLMAO In my mind even the “legitimate” corporations are crooks.

Ahhhh…AT&T. I was involved in the class action lawsuit against AT&T because the company defrauded so many DSL subscribers.

My son and I have Virgin Mobile for our cell phones. They “recommend” that you keep an extra $5 in your account “just in case” you want to buy something like a ring tone later on or your monthly bill goes over its allowance (remarkable, since the monthly bill is all inclusive.)

Do the math. $5 for each account in Virgin Mobile’s bank account plus the interest on that total every month? The money that they are making on our interest-free “loans” to them.

I refused to keep an extra $5 in our accounts. I told them if there is a problem, call me. They’ve got my number.

That’s the same with companies that automatically withdraw payments from you, but when it comes to reimbursement time, it can take 30-60 days for the money to be returned to you. Again, they’re collecting interest on your “interest-free loan” to them. Trust me, the process is just as easy withdrawing money from your account as it is putting it back in. It can be done in seconds.

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