July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

This is Not the Electric Company

Teaneck–The clock is ticking. Shabbos or Yom Tov is drawing near. Yet you are still at work, striving to do a good job, with one eye on the clock. With your time limited, the last thing you want is a phone call to distract you. Sometimes, that phone call is more than a distraction. In fact, sometimes that phone call is trouble.

Mendel Ungar of FillerUp Kosher Wines located on West Englewood Avenue was in the position described above. Ungar received a phone call at 2:30 erev Simchat Torah. The normally jovial Ungar was already haggard as it was a busy day at the store, and he was anxious to get home to Brooklyn for the holiday. In addition, Ungar was reluctant to answer the phone because, “I get phone calls all day with all kinds of offers.” However, the name on the caller id noted PSEG.

So he picked up the phone. The man on the other end of the line asked to speak to the owner of the business. He needed to tell him to make sure that he/she is in the store between 3-5 p.m. because there was a work order to shut off the electric. Ungar was upset. He would be home by then, but even more so, his frustration came from the fact he knew it was a mistake. It was also not the first time it had happened. “It happened already once on a Sunday, two years before. There was a note on the back door of the store about shutting off the electric.” There was a number provided to call PSEG. Ungar did so, and he was told it was a mistake.

The man told Ungar he had no idea why the electricity was being shut off. However, he had a number Mr. Ungar could call to talk to a PSEG supervisor. “So, I called the number. It was a very professional answering service, and it said I reached the disconnection department.”

Mr. Ungar explained to the man, “I pay all my bills, and I pay through the bank.” The man agreed, but he told Ungar, “In August, the payment was withdrawn but was not credited to your account.” The man added that once the payment was posted, we will credit your account. As Ungar deals with sensitive merchandise–such as microbeer–that must stay refrigerated, he was anxious to have the problem handled. He offered to wire the payment. When the PSEG impersonator refused this type of payment, Mr. Ungar grew suspicious. However the imposter’s knowledge of the amount owed, along with his calm demeanor and helpfulness, convinced Ungar the call was authentic.

The imposter generously agreed to let him make a payment via Green Dot MoneyPak rather than making him come down to PSEG. Once at the CVS on Cedar Lane, the imposter called Ungar back to give him exact instructions. When problems arose with the GreenDot MoneyPak card, the man continued to insist that type of card be used. The maximum value of a GreenDot MoneyPak card is $500. Mr. Ungar got one for the maximum amount and read the imposter the numbers on the card which allows for payment to go through. For some reason, the second card was not working and the imposter instructed Ungar to go to another CVS so he could pay off the balance. “At that point, I refused and said that’s it.” The imposter accepted this and said the electricity would remain on and hung up.

Ungar is far from the only person to get ripped off by these imposters. In fact, an article appeared in the New York Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/gonzalez-beware-surge-green-dot-ed-scams-article-1.1937119) last month about the fraud. The article noted that Con Edison “is receiving more than a dozen calls a week about Green Dot scams.” In the last two years alone, 257,000 people have complained to the Federal Trade Commission, and losses have totaled $223 million through this and similar scans.

“I was so down. I felt like a fool,” said Ungar after he realized he had been scammed. Despite his anger, he did not file a police report after a lawyer friend told him he would never get his money back. He did, however, try the number again after the fact and noted that it is still in service. Because of this, Ungar felt a need to try and make sure others don’t fall prey to the same scam. He contacted this newspaper and planned on going to CVS and telling them the story, so they could warn their employees.

The next time you get a phone call while rushing and your mind focused on other things, try to pay close attention and be on alert. The person on the other line just might be trying to steal your money.

By Larry Bernstein

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