Electric bill scam alleged in Lake Placid

LAKE PLACID – The village has released a public service announcement about a possible electric bill scam in which a man phoned village residents, claiming they had not paid their electric bills and must pay immediately or their power will be shut off.

The village said a man named James Pierce made the phone calls. It’s uncertain if this is his real name or an alias.

“Please be advised that this is NOT the Lake Placid Village Electric Department, nor are they associated with the Village,” village officials wrote in the announcement. “If you have any questions regarding your electric account, please call the Village directly at 518-523-2597.”

Lake Placid Police Chief William Moore said his department is investigating the matter.

Moore said the village electric department will notify a resident by mail if it is going to shut off power to a home, and will then notify the resident by hanging a message on the door.

Joe and Colleen Warren, owners of the Cascade Inn in Lake Placid, received a call from Pierce on Thursday.

“It was a gentlemen with an accent calling from the electric department,” Colleen Warren said. “He said the bill hasn’t been paid, and (electricity) would be disconnected in 45 minutes.”

She then immediately called her husband. He said he knew something was strange when he saw the number started with 866.

“The village doesn’t call from an 866 number,” he said.

He called the number back to get to the bottom of it.

“The man sounded foreign,” Joe Warren said. “They were trying to get us to send them a check.”

He then went straight to the village offices at the North Elba Town Hall and reported what had happened.

The Enterprise called the number the village gave for the alleged fraudster and at first heard a message saying, “This is (inaudible) American Electric located at 500 East Court, all of our agents are currently busy. Thank you, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

After calling back again later, a man calling himself James Pierce answered the phone saying, “National Grid.”

However, the numbers do not match – National Grid’s customer support line is 1-800-322-3223 – and searches could not turn up this number being related to the company.

National Grid also says on its website that it will only call customers to offer payment plans but never to demand direct payment over the phone.

The Enterprise asked the man how it was possible a resident in Lake Placid could owe his company money since the village has its own electric department and customers there don’t deal with National Grid.

“You’re a reporter? You’re wasting my time,” the man said. “Go buy a Green Dot MoneyPak for $300, and I’ll tell you my story.”

He then hung up the phone.

Green Dot Corporation makes prepaid MasterCard and Visa cards.