By Wayne Gates –
Some Georgetown residents got disturbing phone calls last week.
It started with a voicemail, telling residents that their utilities were going to be shut off for nonpayment.
A number from area code 937 was left to call back. When residents returned the call, they heard the voicemail greeting used by the village offices.
Once any option was selected, the caller was directed to a person who told them that they needed to go get a pre-paid credit card and call them back with the number to prevent their utilities from being shut off.
Phone scammers from overseas had targeted Georgetown residents.
Village Administrator Art Owens said that the village immediately took action when word of the scam came in.
“It was a stressful few hours, but we worked hard to get the message out and I think we got ahead of this,” Owens said.
“We immediately put a post on our website and social media and made phone calls to all the local stores that sell pre-paid cards and told them what was going on.”
He said that the scam obviously took some planning.
“They were able to record our phone system greeting and use it to that effect. The same thing happened to Duke Energy last year. It does sound realistic. The phone call originated overseas, but when you call it back, it’s a 937 phone number.”
Owens said that he tested the scam himself.
“I played the game for a few minutes and told them that I had received a call on my voicemail to call them because they were getting ready to shut my utilities off. I asked them what I needed to do and they told me to go to my local CVS, they used CVS by name, and buy $375 on a prepaid credit card and call them back with that number.”
Owens then revealed who he was and said that the tone of the conversation quickly shifted.
“I told him that I am from Georgetown Utilities and I said we were onto the scam and we are trying to protect our citizens. He laughed at first and then started cursing and calling me names. Then he told me that they were going to break all of America’s banks and would be coming to America to kill me and all other Americans. Then he slammed the phone down.”
Owens said that the experience is causing him to take a closer look at cyber security for the village offices.
“I’m contacting a company that deals with computer threats and I’m going to have our system examined to make sure they or anyone else hasn’t hacked into our computer system. I don’t believe that’s the case but I’m going to have it checked anyway,” Owens said.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to put security on our system, but technology changes constantly and people learn to get around the protection you have.”
Owens also called the Department of Homeland Security to report the verbal threat.
And what actually happens to local customers who are behind on their utility payments?
“We work with them. I approve payment extensions. We would never call someone on the phone and demand money from them or threaten to shut their utilities off,” Owens said.
“We send a form letter that gives people 14 days to pay and gives an exact cutoff date.”
Consumers can also report telephone and other scams to the federal and state government.
To report a scam to the Federal Trade Commission, go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
In Ohio, scams can be reported to the Ohio Attorney General’s office at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/About-AG/Contact/Report-A-Scam.