Meadville Tribune

March 19, 2014

Scams reported to police, gas company

Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — A trio of phone scams involving Meadville Police Department and National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. were reported to the Tribune on Tuesday.

A pair of phone scams involving Meadville residents have Meadville Police Department officers investigating two incidents. Meadville police are concerned that there may be more victims out there believing that their calls originated in Meadville or even on a Meadville Police Department phone.

In one case, according to a press release issued by Assistant Chief Mike Tautin, a local resident was contacted by phone by someone claiming to work for the Internal Revenue Service claims division. The resident was advised that $9,000 in back taxes was owed. If that amount was not paid by the end of the day, the resident was informed, there would be a warrant for their arrest and local authorities would be taking them into custody.

In another case, according to Tautin, a local resident was contacted by phone and advised that he or she had won $4.7 million and a Mercedes Benz automobile in a Gold Rush Sweepstakes — but the resident needed to forward money to cover taxes on the winnings prior to receiving the prizes.

In both cases, the local residents were directed to go to a local store and obtain Green Dot cards in specific amounts. Green Dot cards are prepaid MasterCard and Visa debit cards issued by Green Dot Corp. and sold in retail outlets nationwide.

Once the Green Dot cards were obtained, the residents were asked to call back telephone numbers supplied by the callers and give them the serial numbers on the cards to satisfy the amount due. Tautin cautioned that once those numbers have been given out, there is no way to retrieve money paid via the cards.

Investigations into both cases have determined that both phone calls originated outside the U.S. In one case, the Meadville Police Department telephone number was “cloned” to appear on the resident’s caller ID, leading the recipient of the call to believe the call was being made locally.

Meadville police are asking local residents to be aware that these scams are out there. Anyone receiving any suspicious phone calls, emails or regular mail regarding winning or owing money should contact the department at 724-6100 immediately — before sending any money — to determine the legitimacy of the inquiry.

National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp., the area’s natural gas utility, is also cautioning customers to be aware of scam artists acting as utility representatives, threatening service shutoff and demanding immediate payment.

In a statement issued Tuesday, National Fuel said its customers should not respond to the calls and should contact National Fuel immediately to verify the status of their account.

A warning sign is the callers won’t accept payment by credit card or check while National Fuel does accept credit cards and checks, according to the company.

The scammer wants the customer to pay by prepaid debit card and instructs the customer to obtain one and call back. Prepaid debit cards are like cash. Once the money is transferred, a customer will be unable to redeem it.

Scammers may claim the gas meter is not working properly and must be immediately replaced at the customer’s expense or the gas service will be shut off. Other scammers use email to reach customers. Customer should be aware of emails disguised as overdue notices from the utility. Clicking on a link or attachment may load malware onto a computer.

National Fuel warns it does sometimes contact customers by phone, so it may be difficult to tell a scammer from a real customer service agent. Gas meters are the property of National Fuel and are the responsibility of the utility to replace or repair. Never allow someone into your home to check natural gas lines, meters or appliances without asking to see proper identification verifying the person is a National Fuel employee.