Scam Watch: Oswego business targeted, Cicero Town Offices spoofed

Police in Cicero say they get new calls about phone scams every week

TOWN OF CICERO (WSYR-TV) - A caller, claiming to be from National Grid brought business to a halt at Mary Haines' flower shop Friday morning.

"They were on their way to turn off our power within 45 minutes due to non-payment of our bill," Haines recalls.

Panicked, Haines and her partner quickly reviewed months of bills neatly stored in a folder. They were all stamped with the word "paid".

The caller insisted that the store owners call another number to straighten things out. The stranger who answered also claimed to be from National Grid - and wanted details, "...the date that it was paid, the check number and the routing number," Haines remembers. "They could have taken whatever we have in our account without us knowing why."

The demand for a routing number convinced the business owners to hang up and look up the real number for National Grid, listed right on their bill. Workers informed Haines her account is up-to-date and they had not called to ask for money.

The scenario is familiar to Cicero Police Officer Ashley Smith, who knows scammers often create phony emergencies to convince victims they need to pay up quickly or face consequences.

"If they ever sound a certain way that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, hang up. What's the worst that can happen?" she asks.

Cicero police warned neighbors about the fake "National Grid" calls last year. 

They get new reports at least a couple of times a week about phony phone calls. The latest target is right next door.

"The caller I.D. did say the Town of Cicero Town Offices," Officer Smith explains. "They were asking if she wanted to purchase the Life Alerts system and they were asking for her personal information, her banking information, so they could sell her this service."

That scam is called spoofing, when technology is used to show someone else's caller I.D.

It's a common trick by scammers overseas. 

"Technology is always evolving," Officer Smith adds. "We can't keep up with it. As soon as it evolves and we create a program to stop it, a new one pops up."

The best weapon is knowledge. Police ask anyone who gets a fake call to share the information with friends, particularly targets like the elderly, so they'll learn to hang up immediately when a caller makes threats.

National Grid doesn't threaten to shut off service if instant payments are not made over the phone. 

The Town of Cicero is not promoting or selling medical alert services.

Officer Smith's advice?

Never assume your caller I.D. is correct. 

Never assume the phone number your given to get more information is legitimate. 

Never assume the person on the other end of the line is who they claim to be. 

Never give out personal information over the phone.

Always ask yourself if the claim makes sense. If you know you've paid your bills, stay calm and tell the caller you'll be glad to call the company directly after you look up the phone number yourself. You'll usually find it right on the bill.

If the caller resists, it's a red flag. If the caller gets aggressive, it's a red flag. If the caller sets a deadline for payment within a matter of hours, it's a red flag. Follow your gut.

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