published Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Utilities bill scam strikes in Dalton


• If you believe you were scammed out of money, call the Dalton Police Department at 706-278-9085 and dial "1" to have an officer dispatched to you.

• If you only were contacted by a scammer, call the police at the same number and press ext. 221. Report the number you were contacted by or the name on your caller ID.

Ramiro Loa, a Dalton grocery store owner, received a phone call Tuesday and was told that if he didn't pay his $600 power bill in 30 minutes, the electricity would be shut off.

When Loa asked if he could send a check, he was told to buy a prepaid debit card and the caller would tell him what to do with it. Loa got suspicious and called police.

Loa was being scammed, police say.

The scam is playing out in Dalton, with someone telling local residents they must put money on a Green Dot prepaid credit card or they will face the consequences, police said Wednesday. Most of the scams so far have been people posing as employees with Dalton Utilities.

But in one police report, a Dalton man was told in an email he was being fined by the FBI for $200 and, if he didn't put the money on a Green Dot credit card, he would be charged with child pornography.

These types of scams are hard to track, said Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier, and authorities don't know if it's a local con or if the perpetrators are part of a larger group.

In the last week, complaints have been trickling into the police department, Frazier said, and police know of at least two people who paid the scammers.

One man put $400 on a Green Dot card Friday and sent it to what he thought was the utility, a police report said.

But the next day, he was asked for $400 more. When he questioned it, he was told the earlier caller had been fired and it was a misunderstanding. If he paid more for a new electric meter, he would be reimbursed, he was told. That's when he went to police.

Dalton Utilities officials have posted a warning to its website, telling customers not to fall for the scam and that the company doesn't ask for credit card numbers over the phone. The company also doesn't call at night, which is when the calls are coming in, to cut the power off, officials said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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