WASHINGTON — The Office of Consumer Protection in Montgomery County alerted customers to two scams Thursday: One aimed at Pepco customers and a second that centers around fake EPA water inspections — which might be directed specifically at Spanish-speaking communities.
While both scams are current, the OCP has heard about both of them before.
“Old scams never die,” Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman told WTOP, “they just get repeated and go high-tech, typically. They’re just blooming again.”
According to the OCP, someone using a fake name — “Greg Miller” is one the OCP is aware of — calls consumers, claims to be from Pepco and threatens to cut their power due to unpaid bills. The scammer then leaves a toll-free number and an extension for the consumer to call.
The scary part is that when the consumer does call the number, it sounds very much like an official Pepco message.
In another variation, someone claiming to be from Pepco goes door-to-door and demands to see residents’ electric bills or gets very aggressive about making a sale.
The OCP says that if residents receive a call from someone claiming to be from Pepco but sounds threatening or unfamiliar, hang up and call Pepco directly using the number at the bottom of your bill to see if the call was legitimate.
If that person comes to your door, ask to see their license and their photo ID to check and see who they are.
“We want to find out the extent of which people are being victimized by it right now,” Friedman said.
Friedman described the second scam in particular as “serious.”
“It appears that … some people are going door-to-door impersonating government officials there to test the water on behalf of the EPA.”
Scammers pose as Environmental Protection Agency workers conducting surveys, or as Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) employees, or even as a company offering to run water purity tests for free.
“We’ve also been working and collaborating with the federal Environmental Protection Agency on the EPA [scam],” Friedman said.
There’s a major concern that these scammers are specifically targeting Spanish-speaking communities.
“The reports that we have and that we’re looking into, the sales people are speaking Spanish. They are trying to identify Spanish-speaking consumers. The contracts are written in Spanish. And that appears to be the primary focus of those concerns,” Friedman said.
The scammers’ “tests” on consumer water systems shows how residents’ water is “contaminated.”
They might also leave notes or posters on consumers’ doors with vials and details about how to have water “tested” at a later date.
“This is a situation where they purport to be a government official, misrepresent themselves to be a government official. They claim that they’re doing some kind of water test. And then they’re inducing or creating fear for the consumers to purchase some type of water filter,” Friedman said.
The going price for the water equipment the scammers are selling?
“The contracts we’ve seen have been $7,500 for a water filter that certainly is not going to cure any of the alleged toxic violations that they claim [consumers] have,” Friedman said.
He described it as almost a scam on top of a scam.
“First, they say that there’s something dangerous in your water — which isn’t true — and then they sell you a device that couldn’t cure that problem even if it were true,” Friedman said.
What both scams have in common is the door-to-door aspect of them.
“In some cases, the consumers may have thought that the person knocking on the door was from Pepco,” Friedman said. “And in the other situation, some consumers were claiming that they were told that the person knocking on their door misrepresented themselves to be a government official — EPA or otherwise — there to conduct some sort of official government test on their water system.”
For more information, and to ask any questions or submit complaints, contact the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection at 240-777-3636 or online.