Bangor businesses beset by phone scam seeking utility payment

Posted July 30, 2014, at 3:58 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Several Bangor-area businesses reported receiving fraudulent phone calls on Wednesday from a person or persons claiming to represent Emera Maine seeking money.

Those receiving the calls were told that refusal to pay would result in having the power shut off just hours before opening for business. And in at least one instance, the caller demanded $1,000 cash.

Ann Marie Orr, owner of 11 Central restaurant in downtown Bangor, answered a call on her business’ phone at about 10:30 a.m. The caller introduced himself as “James” from Emera, she said.

“He says, ‘Your electricity is going to be shut off in 45 minutes because of outstanding bills,’” Orr said, adding “he was very urgent, very matter-of-fact.”

Orr knew she was up to date on all her bills, while the caller insisted they had sent a letter notifying her she was behind because some of her payments had been rejected. Orr pulled up Emera records to ensure she had paid in full, and she had.

The caller demanded she send $1,000 in cash or by prepaid cards.

“They know restaurants have plenty of cash on hand and that we can’t afford to be shut down an hour before opening,” Orr said.

Orr called Emera after “James” hung up on her. Emera directed her to call the state attorney general’s office.

A few hours later, Fresh Ginger Restaurant of Hampden received a similar call. The caller also claimed to be from Emera and threatened to shut off power to the business if it didn’t pay overdue electric bills, according to employees, despite the fact those bills didn’t exist. The caller called back minutes after hanging up to threaten to turn off power at the assistant manager’s home if they didn’t receive payment.

That call also was “forceful and demanding,” employees said.

A month ago, Fresh Ginger received a similar scam call, employees said, only that time, the caller claimed to represent Central Maine Power, which doesn’t service customers in Hampden.

It’s unclear how many other Bangor-area businesses might have received similar calls on Wednesday.

A call placed by a Bangor Daily News reporter to the number that popped up on the businesses’ caller ID was picked up on the third attempt Wednesday afternoon.

The man who answered asked what business was calling. When informed the caller was a newspaper reporter seeking to learn who and where he was and if he was trying to bilk people out of money, he responded, “How much you going to pay me?”

When informed he would receive no money, he said, “OK, then I’m not going to talk to you,” and he hung up.

Verve and Grill on the Green in Bangor and Weathervane in Brewer also reportedly were among those that received scam calls.

“Unfortunately, this is a common and well-worn scam,” Tim Feeley of the Maine attorney general’s office said Wednesday. “The names change, but the themes are the same.”

In November 2013, the attorney general issued a joint statement with the Maine Public Utilities Commission about a nationwide scam involving people claiming to represent utility companies. Though in that case, the caller’s ID was falsified to make it appear that the call originated from the actual utility.

“Emera Maine would never require a customer to purchase prepaid cards in order to pay us,” the utility said in a news release. “We recommend that they contact us if they are unsure if we are calling.”

Emera’s number is 1-855-EMERA-11. Most fraudulent calls appeared to originate from numbers beginning with 1-866.

Emera urged anyone who believes they have been targeted for fraud to call local police or the attorney general’s office.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.

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