By Daniel Silliman
Don't give your money to the men standing outside the Georgia Power Company office.
To pay your bill, you have to go inside.
That's the message from Georgia Power, after scam artists have been reported outside the company's retail offices, from Greenbriar Mall to Old National Highway and from Decatur to Jonesboro.
Carol Boatright, a spokesperson for the utility company, said the scam artists offer to take the money inside and pay, saying they can get the victims extra credit on their account.
"Like, if you had $100," Boatright said, "they'd say they could pay it for you and you get $125 on your account. They say they have a deal worked out."
In most cases, said John Sell, also a Georgia Power spokesman, the bill-paying customers didn't fall for the odd scam, but in at least one incident, a senior citizen handed an envelope of cash to the "nice young men" standing on the curb.
"The bottom line is, if you come to pay your bill, walk inside. Do not hand it to somebody outside the Georgia Power office. We will not be outside," Sell said.
The reported thieves, who falsely claimed to have some sort of deal with the utility company, were described as young, black men, in their early 20s, wearing jeans and T shirts. They did not have badges or any official-looking uniform.
According to the Georgia Power alert, released this week: "All Georgia Power Company representatives carry badges with picture identification, their name and the company's name and logo. They would never approach customers outside a company office, nor is there any way to obtain additional 'credit' on an account."
Area police departments have told the utility company it's hard to catch someone who was handed money on a street curb, Sell said. It only becomes a crime at the point the scam artist doesn't pay the bill, and the victim doesn't realize what's happened until a long time later. Law enforcement officials advised the company it's easier to prevent the crime, alerting customers, than it is to prosecute.
"We're just trying to warn the public: Hey, these guys are out there," Sell said.
Anyone who has been victimized by the scam or has any information about suspects, is asked to call Georgia Power's corporate security department at (404) 506-4116.
Capt. Greg Dickens, at the Clayton County Police Department, said officers have not heard of any other incidents with similar bill-pay scams. There have, though, been some cases of fake fund-raisers, with people soliciting cash at intersections. He said people should always be careful.
"Nothing would surprise me," the captain said.