7 On Your Side: Spotting a Con Edison impersonator con job

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Over the years, Seven On Your Side has warned you about dozens of scams. But Nina Pineda says a new one targeting small businesses is as good of a scam as she's ever seen.

It has all the high notes of a scam, instilling fear with a sense of urgency, but the perpetrators have a lot of time on their hands.

The scammers are spending hours convincing Con Edison customers that they're trying to help them save money and keep their stores open.

The phony Con Ed con artist at the 800 number posing as a power utility rep didn't like it when we called him out.

The scam is so sly even his victims give him credit.

"I'm upset, but I have to give him kudos," said Gary Alaimo, who owns a gift shop in Hell's Kitchen. "It was really great."

Alaimo's unique shop has been in business for 25 years, and he's seen his share of bogus bills and sleazy swindlers. Yet he still fell for the skillful fake-out caught on voice-mail.

"My name is Joshua," the man said. "I am calling from Con Edison. I'm calling to remind you guys of cancellation. (Your) power's being cancelled as of 12 o'clock this afternoon."

Gary called the toll free phone number left on the message, which is not Con Ed's number, and was told that small businesses were getting their power stolen.

"So (he said) we have to switch out the old with the new meters," Alaimo said.

Threatened with a week of power loss unless he paid a deposit for a new meter, Gary, who was driving, was directed to pull over and purchase $600 in Reload-It cards.

"When I got into the store, they were like, 'Oh, you called for these,'" Alaimo said.

The scammer even went so far as to phone the store to help Gary buy the cards.

Once he gave the scratch-off PIN numbers, the callous caller got Gary's cash before his gut instinct told him to cancel.

"They already took the money like that," Gary said with a snap of his fingers.

Afterward, Alaimo even got a fake follow up call from the same number phishing for even more money.

"Mr. Gary, my name is Roy Edwards," the caller said. "I'm the general manager in Con Edison."

Yes, the GM of Con Ed apparently calls customers for payment.

The utility cautions these calls are all bogus, as Con Ed doesn't cold call for payments.

The big takeaway here is that if you ever get a cold call or an email suddenly asking you to pay a bill, first call the utility directly to verify. Only use the number or email from your bill or the utility official website.

And don't ever pay by using pre-paid money cards. That's the biggest tip off to a rip off.
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