With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it’s easy to forget that it’s also high season for scam artists. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance has issued warnings to its member merchants and urges all local businesses and residents to be vigilant of potential scams.
One particularly pernicious scheme that reared its head around this time last year in our region has popped up once again. This scam targets landlords, merchants, homeowners-anyone with a utility bill. The caller impersonates a representative of a utility company claiming that the client has a large unpaid balance and threatens to turn off utilities to the home or business unless a payment is made instantly.
While most businesses may never receive this kind of call, some are not so lucky. Deirdre Kurzweil, owner of Sunny Days of Ithaca at 123 South Cayuga Street, had just returned to Ithaca from a quick business trip and received an urgent message that her store’s power would be disconnected in the next 30 minutes. She called the number provided and followed the steps outlined. “In retrospect,” Kurzweil reflects, “I felt ridiculous for falling for this, but I was panicked that our store wouldn’t have electricity to keep the lights on in the middle of our busiest shopping season. I was unable to quickly verify this information to be inaccurate.”
NYSEG is aware of this and other similar scams and recently wrote on its website: “We continue to learn of fraudulent activities-nationwide and locally-where our customers are contacted and asked to pay current or past due charges, and these ‘payments’ go to scammers. These contacts take place by email, phone or in person. Utility customers can be a convenient target for these scammers because unlike retail business customers, most everyone is a customer of an energy company and pays utility bills.”
NYSEG provides information on how to verify the identity of callers, which can be found here: http://www.nyseg.com/billpaymentscam.html
More to it, fraudulent utility bill collectors aren’t the only swindlers to look out for this time of year. Inc.com recently published a list of fourteen different holiday season scams to watch out for: http://www.inc.com/joseph-steinberg/avoid-these-14-holiday-shopping-scams.html
As ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ we recommend that all local businesses and shoppers take few minutes to familiarize themselves with these circulating schemes. Unfortunately for some locals like Kurzweil, these criminals have already done significant damage at a crucial time for shopping.