Crooks threaten to shut off electricity unless victims pay up
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Police in Bay Ridge are urging business owners in the community to beware of a new type of scam out there in which crooks fool victims into thinking their electricity or some other service is going to be shut off unless they pay up immediately using a Green Dot MoneyPak debit card.
Dep. Insp. Richard DiBlasio, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, said several business owners have been victimized by the scammers.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said that at least four business owners in the past several days have fallen victim to the scam. “We are giving our community fair warning,” Golden said. The crooks are so clever, Golden said, that victims often don’t discover they have been scammed until several days have passed. “Your money has been taken from you but it takes a while before you find out,” he said.
Here’s how the scam works, according to police: A scammer posing as a debt collector, usually claiming to be from a utility company, contacts the victim and says they need to pay an outstanding bill immediately or else their service will be terminated that same day. The con artist instructs the victim to go to a store and purchase a Green Dot MoneyPak card and load the card with the cash they supposedly owe. The scammer also tells the victim to scratch off the back of the card and call with the secret PIN number listed there. Green Dot MoneyPak cards are not linked to bank accounts. What this means is that anyone you share your card number with has instant access to your cash and can siphon money from the card.
Green Dot cards are reloadable debit cards and are available in many stores. Residents often use them to pay phone, cable, or credit card bills. Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), who has been in frequent contact with police on the issue, said scammers like the cards because they're more convenient than a money wire and are untraceable.
The scammers have targeted merchants and residents, police said.
DiBlasio has asked local merchants’ associations to inform their members about the scam so that they won’t fall for it. Ilene Sacco, president of the 68th Precinct Community Council, has contacted thousands of local residents on the council’s emailing list to warn them about the scam
In an e-mail to the Merchants of Third Avenue, a business group representing 200 store owners on the avenue, DiBlasio wrote that the scam is spreading. “Unfortunately this scam continues to grow as more and more innocent people become victims of this hideous crime,” DiBlasio wrote. “We as a community can impact someone’s life positively by making them aware of this scam before they become a victim.”
The cards themselves aren’t the problem, according to Gentile, who said Green Dot MoneyPak cards are legitimate and serve a valuable purpose for residents who don't have bank accounts.
“Unfortunately, some of these swindlers have been successful at getting some of our local businesses to fork over thousands of dollars,” Gentile said. “The scammer pretends to be calling from ConEd and the next thing you know, the business owner has paid the con artist thousands of dollars because they were worried they’d shut their lights off if they didn’t pay immediately. It’s really despicable, especially for unsuspecting small businesses that are just trying to make ends meet.”