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Nebraska City News-Press - Nebraska City, NE
  • Three more utility scams attempted, editor talks to scammer

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  • NEBRASKA CITY – "That's what we do – we try to get money, sir" were the brazen words of an admitted scammer on Friday afternoon. "We're trying to survive."
    The scammer, who was on the phone with News-Press managing editor Jim Brock, first identified himself as David Burkwoods. He spoke with a foreign accent that was difficult to distinguish.
    Burkwoods claimed to be a representative of a "company" whose Utah phone number was used to attempt at least three utility bill scams this week.
    The calls, all from the same number, involved three local businesses that were threatened with utility disconnection if payment was not received in a certain period of time.
    Nebraska City Utilities office manager accountant Jeff Kohrs provided the News-Press with the scammer's phone number, which displayed an 801 area code. Apparently, calls to all three businesses were made on the same day, only a few minutes apart.
    "As soon as I got off one call with one customer, I had another call, and as soon as I got off that call, I got another call," Kohrs said. "So they must have hit them pretty quick."
    Kohrs said no money was exchanged.
    On Friday afternoon, Brock called the scammer and posed as a customer who wanted to prevent utility disconnection.
    After being transferred by a man who called himself James to Burkwoods, Brock was insistent on paying the "overdue bill" immediately.
    Burkwoods asked for a business name, phone number and account number, which Brock gave – all of which were fake – and advised that a balance of $1498.99 was due to avoid disconnection within 30 to 45 minutes.
    When asked if Burkwoods represented OPPD (Omaha Public Power District), Burkwoods said "I am with PPD," – leaving out the O.
    When it came time to make payment, Brock identified himself as a reporter on the record, and Burkwoods laughed hysterically.
    Brock then informed Burkwoods that his number had been reported as a potential scammer.
    Burkwoods laughed again.
    "You almost got my $1,500," Brock said.
    "That's what we do – we try to get money, sir," he said. "We're trying to survive."
    When asked where he was located, he laughed and said, "I'm in Nebraska, sir. I have two people in Nebraska. It's been two months since I hit Nebraska."
    Burkwoods was excited about being "on the news."
    When asked his "real name," he balked, but later said with enthusiasm, "my name is – the famous Earl Johnson."
    Utility Scams
    As of Aug. 28, there have been at least four reports of utility bill scams in Nebraska City. The first call, reported in early August, came from a phone number with a California area code.
    Page 2 of 3 - It is now known if the first reported call is related to the most recent three.
    "They go after businesses that have a lot larger bills. Sometimes they get fairly close [to the actual amount] in saying they need a payment of X or their power will be shut off," said Nebraska Utilities Department General Manager Leroy Frana.
    But even in the case with Burkwoods, there is no guarantee the phone number is a valid way to track the caller.
    "They can do it now where it looks like the Nebraska City Police Department is calling on caller ID," Neeman said. "In this day and age with all the technology, they have ways to beat the system."
    No one has lost money in the latest rash of utility bill scams, but both the police department and the city want citizens to know that this is an ongoing issue.
    "The thing we want people to be aware of is that we don't call people as part of our collection process. We handle it all through the mail or in person. If in doubt, they are welcome to call our office," Frana said.
    Nebraska City Police Chief Dave Lacy said he continues to hear reports of this scam all over the state.
    "The fortunate thing is that people know Nebraska City Utilities is who they pay, not OPPD, so that's a tip off," the chief said.
    If you receive a call from a scammer, the best thing to do is hang up, but Lacy suggests asking for a phone number to call back and speak to a supervisor.
    "Don't tell them you don't have OPPD service," he said. "If they won't give you that, just tell them plain and simple – I don't owe you any money – and hang up.
    "You have to discourage these people. If they see a glimmer of hope they're going to keep bothering you."
    Computer scam
    Another scam reported in Nebraska City recently is the computer scam. In this case, a scammer who claimed to be a representative of Microsoft called a resident asking for remote access to his computer.
    Tim Morgan says the caller identified himself as a Microsoft employee making a free courtesy call to update information, as Morgan's computer was "sending errors."
    The caller then asked Morgan to grant him remote access to Morgan's computer, which requires logging on to a website.
    Having been victimized once before, Morgan refused and notified the police and local news media.
    The scam is for consumers to log on to a website, download viruses, and require the purchase of whatever product the scammer is selling to fix the problem. Often times, the software doesn't even work.
    Page 3 of 3 - This scam has also become an issue nationwide.
    Scammers have become adept at setting up fake website and sending fraudulent e-mails claiming to be Microsoft, and the telephone scam has grown in popularity.
    "Cybercriminals often use publicly available phone directories, so they might know your name and other personal information when they call you," the Microsoft website says. "They might even guess what operating system you're using.
    "Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes."
      

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