Consumer office investigating two scams

Image by Alachua County on Flickr.

The county’s Office of Consumer Protection is investigating two scams recently reported to the office, according to Director Eric Friedman.

The more serious of the two is a variation of a water quality scam that’s been seen in the past, while the other is a Pepco billing scam.

“The door-to-door water purification scam is something that’s been around before,” Friedman said, “but is apparently going on currently in which door-to-door sales people that may or may not be properly licensed are going door-to-door purporting to be conducting some type of water test.”

Some of these scammers are impersonating officials from the Environment Protection Agency or claim to be working on the EPA’s behalf, he said, sometimes leaving door hangers with a tube and instructions to fill it for the test.

“Consumers report they are then told there are multiple things wrong with the consumer’s water and for safety or for health . . . they should purchase some type of water purification system,” Friedman said.

The representatives then offer to sell a system to the consumer for as much as $7,500.

The office is working with the EPA, which is concerned about any misrepresentation, he said.

“It appears to some extent the scams are targeting Spanish-speaking consumers,” Friedman continued. “So we’re in the information-gathering stage. We’d like to hear back from any consumers if they are familiar with this, if they’ve received such a knock on the door or a door hanger.”

There’s nothing inherently illegal about selling these systems, he said, but misrepresenting any affiliation with a government agency would violate county, state and federal laws, as would misrepresenting test results or anything else that misleads consumers about their water quality.

“Right now, we are just working with the EPA to gather information, investigate and see what action appears to be appropriate,” Friedman said.

The Pepco alert comes from a single consumer complaint, he said.

“They received a telephone call from someone who said his name was Greg Miller, represented that he was collecting on behalf of Pepco, that money was due on an electric bill and if it wasn’t paid promptly, the electricity would be turned off,” Friedman said.

The homeowner was given a call-back number and then was told to buy a prepaid Green Dot card and send the payment to a phone number.

“Our concern is, number one, this is not Pepco. It’s an impersonator. Pepco doesn’t collect their bills that way,” he said.

Once money is wired on a prepaid card, it’s like giving someone cash and it’s “virtually impossible” to trace or recover the funds, Friedman said.

While the Pepco scam targeted just one consumer as far as the office knows, Friedman said they’ve heard from about a dozen people who’ve been approached with the water quality scam.

Residents who experience one of these scams, or know anything about them, can report the information to [email protected] or call the office’s anonymous tip line at 240.777.3681.

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