Recently, the Westfield Police Department has received numerous reports of suspected scamming activities, the most notable involving telephone calls from people claiming to be working for PSE&G or the IRS.
In the PSE&G case, the caller poses as a PSE&G representative and advises the victim that he or she has a balance due on his or her account and then demands immediate payment via a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer, threatening to shut off the electrical power if such payment is not promptly forwarded. Small businesses in particular are being targeted in this scam. Usually a brief period of time, an hour or two, is offered by the bogus caller to allow the victim time to wire the money or, at the caller’s prompting, purchase a pre-paid card such as a Green Dot Money Pak commonly available at pharmacies and convenience stores to make the payment.
According to PSE&G, “When PSE&G makes an outbound phone call to customers, customer-specific information is shared with the customer. That information includes the account name, address, number and current balance. If customers do not receive this correct information, they likely are not speaking with a PSE&G representative.” In addition, PSE&G advises that, “PSE&G customers scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment receive written notice on their bill at least 10 days in advance.” In the event any resident or business owner senses that they may be being scammed, terminate the call and call PSE&G directly at 1-800-436-PSEG (7734) and the Westfield Police Department at 908-789-4000.
In the case of the IRS, a caller posing as an IRS agent tells victims that they owe money to the IRS and if it is not paid through a pre-paid debit card or via a wire transfer within a short period of time, an arrest warrant will be issued. According to the IRS, they “do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.”
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you think you may owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS representative who answers your call will be able to tell you if there is a legitimate issue outstanding and assist you accordingly. If you don’t have any reason to believe that you have an outstanding issue, such as you never received a notice in the mail, contact the Treasurer Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 and the Westfield Police Department at 908-789-4000.
I urge residents to trust their instincts. If you sense that something just doesn’t seem right, or a threat is made, do not hesitate to end the call. Never release any personal information and do not make any payment until you have verified legitimacy through trustworthy means. At any time you suspect a scam, do not hesitate to the call the Westfield Police Department or 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency.
David Wayman is the Chief of Police in Westfield, NJ.
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