By Mike Dunn


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia police and local utilities are planning a public awareness campaign to warn residents of scammers who try to enter homes posing as utility workers.

Word of the campaign came today during a City Council committee hearing on the issue.

Francis Healey, an adviser to police commissioner Charles Ramsey, told the committee that elderly residents are less suspicious of someone at the door when that person is wearing a uniform.

“The problem is, it’s a hard hat and a radio, and some people can con their way into the door,” Healey noted.  “These are older individuals and they’re very trusting sometimes.  These individuals are being taken advantage of because of their honesty, and their belief that people wouldn’t do this type of crime.  And it’s a shame.  You don’t really need a whole lot to convince people.”

And the city’s water commissioner, Howard Neukrug, said many older residents are less suspicious because, decades ago, meter readers needed to get inside each house.

“Gas Works, water, Peco: we were all knocking on your door.  And the message was, ‘Let us in, we need to read your meter.’  That no longer exists,” Neukrug noted.

It no longer exists, he says, because of smart meters:

“All the utilities now have smart meters.  And there is no reason for us to be going into your house unless you have invited us in because you have a specific problem.”

Healey noted that these crimes are hard to prosecute because the elderly victim is often afraid to testify.  So, he says,  police and the utilities are planning a large-scale public awareness campaign about imposter fraud.

“It’s essentially something called , ‘Be Sure Before You Open the Door,’ ” says Denise James, strategic communications director for the police department.  “That will be citywide, even down to an identifiable logo that helps remind senior citizens that there are steps they can take to be safe.”

James indicated that the campaign is not yet being rolled out.   In the interim, all of the officials at the hearing agreed on one piece of advice: if you’re not expecting a utility worker at your door, refuse entry and don’t hesitate to call 911.

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