An off-duty Orange & Rockland Utilities employee successfully thwarted an attempted phone scam.
Shoko Saito, a senior specialist in O&R’s Corporate Affairs Department, said she stopped by Walgreens in New City on Saturday, April 6. Saito was in line at the check-out counter when she said Pearl River Carwash owner Raymond Ahmadi rushed into the store with his cell phone on speaker.
Saito said it was clear that Ahmadi was looking for something — the caller was giving him instructions about a gift card.
Ahmadi then approached the store’s cashier and asked where the gift cards were kept. He told the cashier that he was in a hurry because the caller on speakerphone claimed to be from O&R. He said they were demanding a $500 payment via prepaid debit card for a smart meter installation. Otherwise, he said, they would shut off his electricity.
“I almost had a heart attack when he (the crook) called. I run a car wash, and if I have no electricity, I have no business. No customers,” Ahmadi said later in an interview. “The weather was perfect that Saturday for washing your car so if my power was cut off, I’d lose a lot of money.”
Saito said she heard the words “debit card” and jumped to action, knowing the scheme was a scam. She urged him to hang up the phone immediately, which he did.
As an employee of O&R, Saito recognized that the company would never ask for payment via a prepaid debit card. This includes Green Dot Cards. The company says it doesn’t charge a fee for smart meter installation or shut off services for non-payments on the weekend — or immediately.
“I was very lucky Shoko was in the store or I would have lost $500 to this thief. I have heard a lot about scams but I never heard of this one,” said Ahmadi.
Saito said she notified O&R’s Security Services and Customer Service about the incident. The company then followed up with Ahmadi to ensure that he didn’t owe a payment at that time.
O&R urges customers who receive a suspicious call demanding payment to take the following steps immediately:
- Hang Up : Disengage and get away from the pushy “sales pitch”
- Text Trouble : After hanging up, the scammer may try to text you. Block the number and ignore the threat.
- Don’t Hit Redial : The caller ID on your phone may appear to be an authentic O&R representative. This is just a high-tech scheme copy of the company’s real number. Don’t redial and don’t call any numbers the caller gives you to call them back.
- Fast Track : If you’re unsure about your O&R balance, the best way to check is to log into your online account . You also can call O&R’s automated phone system at 1-877-434-4100.
While Ahmadi was fortunate that Saito was in the right place at the right time, we can’t all be so lucky, and Saito says it was quite the close call.
“Mr. Ahmadi was very upset," she said. "He had his O&R bill and cash in hand, ready to pay this crook. I’m glad I was there and able to help.”
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