Mississippi Power: Don’t be left in dark by scammers

334px-Mississippi_Power_logo.svgA Mississippi utility has issued a warning — don’t be left in the dark by con artists.

Mississippi Power reports scammers, attempting to pass themselves off as company employees, are contacting the Gulfport-based utility’s customers and telling them they are behind on their electric bill and face having their power cut off.

Spokesman Keith Guillot tells The Sun Herald the scammers are using various tactics, including calling to say bills are past due and must be paid using a “money pack” or falsely identifying themselves as government agents offering grants to pay utility bills.

Guillot said some have even found a way to display Mississippi Power’s customer service number on caller ID.

The anatomy of a scam

I thought it sounded too good to be true when mere minutes after putting a couple of items for sale online I got a bite.

Turns out I was right, and it gave me an up-close-and-personal look at the sheer nerve and ingenuity of today’s online scammers.

I recently placed two items on the Jackson area Craigslist. It was the first time I ever offered anything for sale online, and being a Delta boy I was a little apprehensive.

Less than an hour after splashing up the items, I got a strong response for one of them. He offered to send a cashier’s check, would provide information on shipping later and would cover the postage.

Great, right?

Well, The Wife is much savvier than I am when it comes to online transactions. She smelled something bad, mainly because the person’s phone number was out of state. So, she recommended telling the person that as soon as the check cleared the bank, we would proceed with the deal. I did, and the person raised no objections.

Last week, an envelope came Express Mail containing a seemingly legitimate cashier’s check for nearly 10 times the agreed-upon price. I was speechless.

I was also surprised to see that it had been posted in Texas City, Texas, from some clinic. I did a search for the clinic — nothing.

Hmmm…

The next morning I was on the phone with the Attorney General’s Office. Without even seeing the check, the AG staffer said it was a classic overpayment scheme. The account number on the check was legit, she said, but the check was totally bogus. And, if I deposited it, the bank would come back on me for the money.

I subsequently checked with my bank, and they verified what the AG’s office said.

By this time, I was getting texts from the “buyer” wanting to know the status of the check. Unlike the earlier texts, these were poorly written — terrible grammar — and the tone was threatening.

“Where is the check that is with you? You trying to rip me off from my money? If I don’t hear from you on today, I reported you to FBI.”

Unbelievable.

I would like to think that I would have been smart enough not to fall for this scam. But, I honestly don’t know. If The Wife hadn’t raised concerns, would I have been duped?

I have been guilty in the past of wondering who in the devil would be so dumb as to fall for some of these schemes. Now, I know. This scammer was sophisticated, well organized and apparently fearless. It was impressive.

Of course, by the time I started receiving the threatening messages, I already knew this was all a sham. It made me mad, but I got some satisfaction that at least the crook(s) was out the cost of postage.

Still, I decided to exact some revenge.

For a better part of a week, I played the dumbest country bumpkin imaginable. I informed the scammer that the check was for much more than the agreed-upon price. Was he/she aware of this? What was I to do with the balance? Where was the address to ship the item? Considering the money involved, would it not be wiser to meet face to face? Etc. Etc.

With that, the thief started putting forth the most preposterous lies. Oh, the extra money was for some movers that were transporting the item for him. The difference was for them. The movers wouldn’t take a check, so I was just to hand them the item and the balance of the money in cash when they arrived — as a favor. When I still balked, the person offered me $100 if I would just deposit the check — “for my runings (sic).”

I just raised more concerns, and howled at the responses, sharing them with friends and family. After dozens of text messages, the scammer obviously just gave up. I bet the thief wanted to kill me — maybe literally. I haven’t heard a word since.

I learned a lot from this whole mess. One, the folks in the Consumer Protection Division of the AG’s Office are interested and more than willing to help.

Obviously I also discovered that when it comes to online transactions, one can never be too cautious. Thinking you’re too smart to get ripped off is utter stupidity.

Finally, I learned that there is not a more rewarding pastime than scamming a scammer.