February 21

Scammers pretending to be Central Maine Power hit Augusta business

Tina Charest pays $500 to scammers under threat of losing power at her Water Street restaurant.

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

SCAM VICTIM: Tina Charest talks about the scammer who called about power bill for her business on Friday at Charlamagne’s Bar & Lounge on Water Street in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Most common scams

The Maine Attorney General lists numerous scams on its website — www.maine.gov/ag — including the following:

• Medicare Scam: Many Maine seniors have received phone calls from someone claiming to be from Medicare or from the “health office.” The callers ask for the person by name and appear to be offering seniors some sort of supplemental health insurance or prescription coverage. Never give any personal information to anyone over the phone. Consumers with questions about Medicare can get more information from the Medicare offices at 1-800-MEDICARE.

• Grandparent Scam: An increasingly common scam involves a call from someone claiming to be the victim’s grandchild. The scammer will claim that there has been a mishap and money is needed immediately. Never wire money or give out bank info based on a telephone call.

• Fake Check Scam: Fake check scams often originate through email. Whatever the setup, the bottom line is if someone you don’t know sends you a check but wants you to wire money back, it’s a scam. Be skeptical. There is no legitimate reason for you to wire money back to someone who has paid with a check. If you think you are a victim of a scam you should: Contact the FTC 1-877-FTC-HELP; Contact your local post office; Contact the Maine Attorney General’s Office: 800-436-2131.

• Internet Phishing: Phishing is a term that means getting your personal information by deception and using the information to steal your identity. A common phishing scheme comes through your email and disguises itself as a bank that needs to update your personal information. No matter how legitimate the message looks, never send personal information over the Internet unless you initiate the contact.

The scammer never asked Charest to provide her customer account number and Charest never asked the caller if she could verify the number. If Charest had asked the caller to provide the number it likely would have killed the scam, said Detective Sgt. Matthew Clark of the Augusta Police.

“If somebody is a legitimate business they should be able to tell you what your account number is,” Clark said. “If they can’t that’s an obvious problem.”

But businesses owners often don’t think to ask such question when faced with the loss of electricity and resulting impact on the business. The strict time frame is designed to add to that stress, Clark said.

“That throws the anxiety levels up there,” he said. “At the time, in her mind, it’s, ‘I’ve got to stop them from shutting off the power.”

Clark said the prepaid credit cards, like Green Dot MoneyPaks, are popular among scammers.

“It’s just like a credit card once you give them the number,” he said. “Any time anyone asks for a Green Dot card, that’s a big red flag.”

Clark said one other city business fell victim to the same scam within the past year. The problem has been prevalent enough statewide to prompt CMP to send out a notice to warm customers.

“Utility customers can be a convenient target for these scammers,” Rice said in the release. “Most everyone does business with an energy company and pays utility bills.”

Martha Currier, compliance examiner in the consumer protection division of the Office of the Attorney General, urges everyone to be suspicious of any unsolicited phone call seeking money.

“The best thing they can do is hang up and don’t engage the caller,” she said.

Currier spends much of her day educating people about scams and trying to protect others from becoming victims. The range of methods criminals use to take advantage of others run far and wide, and have targeted people across social and economic classes.

“These scams run circles around one another,” Currier said. “Everyone should be on the alert for unsolicited phone calls and people asking for money. That’s just the age we live in now.”

If you questions a call, or believe you’ve been scammed, Currier urges you to call the consumer protection division at 800-436-2131 or email consumer.mediation@maine.gov.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642 ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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