CALLAWAY, Md. (Nov. 14, 2013)—Both local police and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) are warning residents of locals scams that are plaguing the tri-county area.
On November 6, the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office received a fraud complaint from a victim who was attempting to rent a residence. The victim found a residence to rent on the Zillow website and contacted the owner by email. The alleged owner indicated he was out of the country and requested the first month's rent be wired to him. The victim wired the money only to never hear from the owner again. The residence turned out to be listed for sale and was never for rent.
Citizens are asked to be very careful when buying, selling, or renting goods and/or services over the internet. Be especially leery of any requests to send money to foreign countries.
Bomb threat scam
Although there have been no known reported incidents in St. Mary's County, law enforcement has observed a trend in the use of telephonic bomb threats as a way to extort money from businesses and individuals. The scam involves a call made directly to retail stores or other entities that sell Green Dot Money Pak Cards, demanding victims load at least $500 on one or more cards. The caller threatens to detonate an explosive device if the victim does not comply. Once the card is loaded, the caller demands the card information and subsequently transfers the funds without having physical access to the card. To date, no explosive devices have been found and there have no reports of physical injury.
Law enforcement requests any businesses or persons receiving such a call treat the incident as though it involves an actual explosive device. Try to remain calm and concentrate on the exact wording of the caller, and any other details which could prove valuable in evaluating the threat. Contact local law enforcement immediately.
SMECO warns of payment scam
Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) is warning its customer-members about a scam involving prepaid Green Dot Visa and MasterCard debit cards. Callers claiming to represent SMECO have been contacting customers and threatening to disconnect their electric service. The caller tells SMECO customers to make a payment by purchasing a Green Dot debit card. They may even tell customers to purchase the card at a local CVS store. Customers are then told to call another phone number; when the customer gives the card information over the phone, the scam artist cashes in the monetary value of the Green Dot card.
Customers who have received a phone call from an unauthorized source may call their local law enforcement agency or the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP. According to Tom Dennison, SMECO's government and public affairs director, "SMECO has received a number of phone calls from customers who have been targeted by this scam. They said that 'SMECO' appeared on their phone's caller ID, so they thought the call was legitimate."
SMECO has a set routine for collecting payments from customers.
-- SMECO only calls customers who owe a past due balance.
-- SMECO usually uses an automated phone system with a recorded message; rarely will SMECO employees make personal "collection" phone calls.
-- Collection calls are made about 10 days before service is to be terminated.
-- SMECO does not require payment at the time of the call.
-- SMECO does not make collection calls or terminate service on weekends or holidays.
-- If service is going to be terminated, a SMECO collector will knock on the customer's door before turning off service.
-- SMECO collectors will accept credit card payments, checks, or money orders, but they do not accept cash.
Dennison added, "We don't want our customers to lose their hard-earned money to a scam artist. If customers receive a phone call, and they are unsure about whether or not it is legitimate, they should hang up and call SMECO at 1-888-440-3311, any time, any day. Customers should never provide financial or account information to unauthorized callers."
If you are the victim of a scam, contact your local sheriff's office on their non-emergency number to file a report. Calvert: 410-535-2800; Charles: 301-932-2222; St. Mary's: 301-475-8008.