Sophisticated scammers try to swindle local businesses | VailDaily.com

Sophisticated scammers try to swindle local businesses

AVON — Scammers are calling local businesses, insisting that if you don't give them information from a cash card or credit card, Holy Cross Energy will cut off your electricity.

It's a scam and a lie, says Stephen Casey with Holy Cross Energy.

"If we called someone, we would not take the credit card over the phone. Holy Cross also won't ask for a prepaid cash card," Casey said.

This scam leaves you an 800 number, 1-800-718-4170, that rings to an outfit calling itself Metropolitan Edison.

“Cash cards, that’s the key. No legitimate utility companies will ask you pay with a cash card. The money becomes untraceable at that point.”Chris EckMetropolitan Edison

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The thing is, there really is a Metropolitan Edison. It's an electric utility company based in Pennsylvania and founded in 1917.

"It is purely a scam," said Chris Eck, an honest-to-goodness company spokesperson with the real Metropolitan Edison.

"We've seen an uptick in the sophistication of these scams over the past few years," Eck said.

Targeting local businesses

Valerie Watts with Group 970 Restaurants reported this latest scam to the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. She said callers hit the group's Beaver Creek locations. Watts talked to neighboring business people this week who had received the same phone calls.

"That's a lot of work," said the unimpressed Watt. "Just get a job and you'll do better than you're doing."

Let our fingers do the walking

We called that 800 number left with Watt. It sent us through an official sounding voicemail system. A man calling himself Mark came on the phone and after some back-and-forth, claimed to be from Metropolitan Edison, which he said is in Pennsylvania, although he was in a call center, which is not.

He had no answer when we asked him why a Pennsylvania utility company was calling businesses in Colorado.

Eck, with the real Metropolitan Edison, was bemused.

"The only way we're talking to someone in Vail, Colorado, is if you also own a place on the Jersey Shore," Eck quipped.

Mark remained undaunted, though, and insisted we needed to pay a minimum balance of $1,498.62. If we didn't, our electricity would be cut off. Mark also insisted that we were two months behind on our utility bill and owed his non-existent company a total of $4,958.62.

At first, Mark tried to send us to a Rite Aid or a CVS, which do not exist in Eagle County. Then he settled for an Avon convenience store.

Get a cash card and call us back, Mark said.

"Cash cards, that's the key," Eck said. "No legitimate utility companies will ask you pay with a cash card. The money becomes untraceable at that point."

Sometimes it works

Scammers do it because sometimes it works. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says almost 900,000 people have contacted them, and more than 5,000 victims have collectively paid more than $26.5 million.

Senior Safe Week

Next week is Senior Safe Week in Colorado, designed to stem financial abuse and exploitation.

"Research has shown that one in five elder adults in the United States is victimized by some form of financial fraud or exploitation," said Joe Neguse, director of Department of Regulatory Agencies. "This is a huge issue that requires commitment and creative solutions by many industries and community partners."

The hotline is 720-593-6720.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Scammers never stop

One of the more cruel and egregious scams has scammers calling people, claiming they need your personal information to identify an accident victim from your family.

A text message scam threatened a Gypsum man with assassination if he didn’t pay $15,000.

A bogus IRS scam is now common. Aggressive and threatening phone calls from scammers claiming to be from the IRS threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation, lawsuits and other things. Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.