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February 2014 Column - Warning to residents about imitation utility workers


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

As we have just celebrated Labor Day and all our students are now back to school, I wanted to discuss a recent legislative issue that you may have read about in the newspaper.

Legislator Ted Morton recently visited Como Lake Park to observe the rapid deterioration of the lake.

Erie County Legislator Ted Morton (R-Cheektowaga) began his yearly summer listening tour this week that will have him visiting with residents in Lancaster, Cheektowaga, Depew and Alden.

A few weeks ago, the Legislature approved changes to the Erie County Charter that were recommended by an all-volunteer citizens committee. With County Executive approval, the measure would have gone to the ballot for the public to have their say and vote on in November. Unfortunately the County Executive chose to veto the recommended changes. As a result, the Legislature anticipates voting on an amended version later this month, including some changes suggested by the County Executive. While I’m disappointed that the original package was vetoed, I’m optimistic that a revised version will be passed and that the public will have the opportunity to vote on it this November.

Legislator Ted Morton (R-Cheektowaga) announced that the Legislature has authorized the start of the construction phase on Losson Road between Borden and Transit roads in Lancaster.

A few weeks ago I was watching the news and saw an unsettling report about three men who posed as Erie County Water Authority workers to gain access into a woman’s home. While one man distracted the homeowner the other ransacked her home. They took her personal belongings and invaded her security. They then attempted the same scheme at different homes in several towns.

This scam has been going on for years, and it's not just the Water Authority that is used as a cover. Heating and electric companies also have had their name used by these criminals to enter homes under false pretenses. To help residents protect themselves, I am reminding residents what they need to be aware of. The ECWA has developed a webpage dedicated to clearly demonstrating what a worker will be wearing, driving and what identification they will be carry. As a tagline, the ECWA reminds residents, “Insist on Identification.”

I am sharing this information with resident on my website and Facebook page, as well as distributing an informational poster, so residents are familiar with ECWA logos and IDs. Most importantly, I also included the phone numbers residents can call to confirm that a worker was sent to their home. Should you have any questions or concerns, immediately call ECWA Customer Service at 849-8484 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or ECWA's Emergency Dispatch at 685-8235 after 5 p.m. and on weekends to confirm if an ECWA employee should be at your premises.

This is a critical piece of the effort to stop this scam as the ECWA dispatch center can quickly tell a resident if a worker should or shouldn’t be at their home.

Many thieves prey on elderly residents, as was the case recently, creating concern about their home utilities, convincing them there is a serious reason they need to be there. To help educate our older population, I have partnered with the senior centers in my district to meet with residents and handout the helpful informational sheet. They can take this poster home and reference it quickly to be prepared if someone knocks on their door.  

Please download the poster by CLICKING HERE, and share with neighbors, family members or friends. If you are a member of a community organization, please consider distributing the poster to your members. Simply alerting residents to the existence of this scam could help them feel confident to ask a worker to wait while they confirm their authenticity. 

The most important piece of information on the poster is a reminder that if residents are ever unsure or uneasy, they should close their door and contact authorities. It is better to be safe.

I believe our local utility companies do a good job educating the public about their company policies concerning home visitations. I am happy to work with them to deliver this message so we can stop scams like the one that happened to that unfortunate resident. It is terrifying to think a criminal was in one of our neighbor's homes, in the middle of the day.

I want to encourage anyone who has a question or concern to please contact me at 858-8856 or by emailing ted.morton@erie.gov