Apparently I'm having a hot streak with scam artists lately because I just encountered another one Wednesday - this time at my uncle's door. Unlike the last one though, this one seriously pissed me off.
To our surprise, there was a knock at the door around noon. I was busy in the living room while my uncle went to answer it. Hearing the door open, I assumed it to be someone he knew - perhaps his landlord. Instead I hear, "Hi I'm with the electric company and they just sent me around to make sure you're paying the right rate. Bring your bill and I'll show you where we're mentioned on the back."
My uncle responded in confusion and went to get the bill. At this point, I headed over to my uncle and told him to call the electric company instead. They had no idea what he was talking about. After being confronted with the fact that the electric company had no idea who he was, the guy's story changed. He wasn't working for the electric company itself, he was working for the company that handled my uncle's billing and rates.
It was at this point that I came to the door, I was figuring this to be an identity scam and the guy showing up in plain clothes didn't exactly lend an air of credibility to the whole situation. He asks my uncle for the phone number on the account and he gives it.
Let me pause for a second and point out that my uncle, frankly, is a product of a different time. He's a retiree who's all too willing to answer the door and chat with those who show up at his house. Had I been the one to check the door, they wouldn't have been greeted in the first place. Pretty simply, if I don't know you, I'm not answering (I take after my mother in this regard). My uncle views this as rude and is, in my opinion, too willing to give strangers the benefit of the doubt.
Becoming even more concerned, I start grilling the guy about why he's here and his story starts to fall apart. He now says that he's here to offer a special rate for the next twelve months and admits we're not connected to his company. It's clear that the guy's beginning to get a bit annoyed and says that if we give the account information, he can call up the electric company to confirm he’s legitimate. I head over to check the back of the bill and the only thing mentioned is that you're allowed to have intermediary companies. He then asks my uncle for the last four digits of his social and my uncle answers despite his reservations and I don't think I've ever internally screamed more in my life.
I give my uncle the signal to cutoff the conversation and he starts to close the door, saying “no thank you, sorry but we’re not interested” and the guy won't take no for an answer. Finally, after about 30 seconds of this, I walk over and close the door with a loud "NOPE" in response to yet another question being asked. I can hear the guy indignantly say "Wow" as I do so.
Thankfully, it turned out not to be an identity theft scam but a different scam altogether. It's apparently surprisingly common for these third party companies to send aggressive sales people to pressure people into "buying" electricity through them rather than directly from the electric company. Some secretly trap you in a devastatingly high variable rate while others just add their fee to the electric company's fee, allowing them to charge you for nothing.
I made sure to explain to my uncle once the door was closed why the last four digits of your social are the most important and why not having the whole number is virtually irrelevant for any SSN assigned before June 25, 2011 due to the first five digits being relatively easy to guess based on date and birth location knowledge. Social security numbers prior to 2011 were not generated through randomness the way they are today.
Frankly, the whole affair left a bad taste in my mouth. Unlike my chat with the lotion salesman, where I knew I was never going to buy any of his silly products, having a scammer show up at the door really rubbed me the wrong way. At worst, the lotion guy might get $100 out of you in exchange for overpriced skin softeners but the “electric company” scammer can get hundreds and tank your credit in the process. Being rudely aggressive in your marketing is bad, targeting older individuals with aggressive marketing is worse, but doing it in their own home in order to scam them out of their retirement money on top of it really makes my blood boil.