BALTIMORE — Utility scammers have duplicated BGE's voice response system, gone door-to-door pretending to be employees, and spoofed the company's phone number to make it appear as though a representative is calling.
Demitra Stefanoni, an owner of Penn and Pratt Restaurant, knows most of these tricks, but still fell for a scam that cost her nearly $800.
For the last several years, Stefanoni said her business has been a popular target of BGE impostors.
"We get multiple calls every week, we get people that walk in, it's non-stop," Stefanoni said.
And a few months ago, she saw on caller ID that Baltimore Gas & Electric was calling from their standard phone number 1-800-685-0123.
"They didn't have our payment and I said, yes I did, it cleared the account," said Stefanoni. "They're like it never applied, it was a month before, you know with the billing it got screwed up, and I was able to make a payment and they got me."
Stefanoni went to a payment center where she wired nearly $800 to the caller.
They then called back asking for more money.
"When I made the payment, I knew at that point something was wrong, but I couldn't stop it," said Stefanoni.
She thought she knew better, but it was a combination of things that threw her. First, the caller ID, which was spoofed.
"It's almost a mirage because it's not BGE's number, but it will show up on your phone as BGE's number," Stefanoni said.
Scammers can do this online.
The caller also knew certain things that only the account holder and BGE should have access to.
"He verified my last payment. He verified when my payments were due. He verified everything. He knew my account, which is what scared me," said Stefanoni.
He also knew the cross streets and that BGE was there doing work in the area.
"Almost like he was outside looking in. He knew. He knew information," Stefanoni said.
How he did, she still doesn't know, but she wants others to be aware that it's possible. And she wants to see BGE do more to alert customers.
Chimaobi Chijoke, the director of customer care at BGE, said they take these cases very seriously. He estimates that BGE customers have been scammed out of $500,000 so far this year. And once that money's gone, it's rarely, if ever, recovered.
Among their initiatives to combat scammers is a call center in downtown Baltimore where nearly 200 employees work to answer questions about accounts, outages, and scams.
"If there's ever any doubt, actually hang up and call the BGE number. Call the 1-800-685-0123 and whoever you speak to will guide you through," said Chijoke.
He added that the company tries its best to alert customers to new scams, but they're always evolving.
"They are constantly coming up with new ways. So we address it in one way, we think we've got it, they come up with a new creative way to come back at us," Chijoke said.
Without being able to shut these scammers down for good, they've tried to educate the public by posting weekly videos with #StopScammersSunday, joining with the Maryland Attorney General to promote awareness around Annual Utility Scam Awareness Day, and working to give consumers the tools to avoid becoming victims
"So bottom line is if it doesn't sound right, it doesn't feel right, double check. Go with your gut," said Chijoke.
In addition, if someone comes to your door and says they're with BGE, ask for their company photo ID, look for logos on their clothing, and most importantly, never give out your account ID number or show them your bill.
And if you've been the target of a scam, report it to local police and BGE. The more they know, the more they can do to try to protect customers.