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June 17, 2015

Philly unveils program to prevent scams

Call 911 to check identity of 'utility worker'

Police Scams
Scam Prevention Courtesy/Police Department

Police have started a new scam prevention program called "Be Sure Before You Open The Door."

Utility worker or scam artist?

Philadelphia police announced Wednesday that residents can now dial 911 to get an answer to that question as part of a new social marketing campaign aimed at reducing home invasions and scams.

The campaign is called “Be Sure Before You Open The Door” and is designed for seniors but available to anyone.

“What we don’t want you to do is open the door unless you are sure,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said. “You need to know.”

Most of the time, a resident knows beforehand that a utility worker is going to show up and perform a task. That is not always the case, however, and when a person shows up purporting to be from a utility company, it can be difficult to determine whether that person is legitimate or an imposter trying to gain entry into a house to commit a crime.

“[The program] will help us determine and reduce some of those fears an elderly person has,” said Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel. He added that like with any new program, there may be some problems that emerge at the beginning.

When asked at the press conference how big of a problem fraudulent utility workers posed, police did not supply specifics. “No matter what the number would be, it would still not prevent us [from] moving forward,” Bethel said.

When a 911 call is received by an emergency dispatcher they can make a backchannel inquiry with the company to see if the utility worker is legitimate.

Ramsey reiterated that calling 911 is a service and citizens should not hesitate to do so.

“It’s not a burden,” he said.

Joseph Snyder, a director with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, said the elderly were a common a target of scams because as people aged, they often became more trusting and less able to recognize suspicious people. And the impact on victims can be severe.

“What happens often, is when people are victimized, they become isolated,” he said.

Two elderly people who also spoke at the press conference said that it was reassuring to know that there was a new resource for them to ensure they weren’t going to be scammed.

“All we have to do is push 911,” said Sadie Williams, who is 74. “Easy, very easy.”