By KATHY CHANG
EDISON — Police are warning residents to be on guard at all times when a person comes to a home and says he or she is from the utility and/or water companies.
“Most people do not come to your houses unsolicited … you have to initiate that kind of response,” said Police Capt. Joseph Shannon. “So if you should get that, your guard should be up right away.”
Shannon said legitimate solicitors are very compliant with the police department.
“They fill out their permits and they notify police administration, ‘Hey, we will be in certain areas,’ so if we get calls about soliciting, we know that this is a valid solicitor,” he said. “The people who are not valid, these are the people that try to prey on residents, primarily a lot of elderly residents not just in Edison, but all throughout New Jersey, and it’s a big problem.”
Shannon said there have been several incidents in Edison.
He said the typical scam involves a person who is well dressed wearing a fake identification with a lanyard around his/her neck. This person comes to a resident’s door telling the resident that he or she works for the water company and there is a problem with the water pressure and they need to go into the home and check the water pressure.
“Some people are a little naive and they think it’s legitimate and they allow these people into their house,” said Shannon. “What typically happens is they will distract the homeowner, and they’ll bring the resident down into the basement and have [him or her] turn on the water back and forth for a few minutes while the accomplice is going through the bedroom taking jewelry [etc.].”
Shannon said residents should not allow anyone into their homes. He also noted that legitimate utility and water company employees come in work vehicles.
“We welcome you to call us immediately and verify if [the person] is legitimate or not,” he said. “There is no such thing as a bad call to the police department.”
Shannon said residents are their eyes and ears out in the township.
“We need to know where this is occurring so we can deploy our resources,” he said. “We have a lot of officers out there, and we would like to get timely information so we can act on this and find out who these people are and check out what they are doing. If they are up to criminal activity, we definitely will take appropriate action with that.”
Shannon offered his advice at the Township Council meeting on Feb. 8 after council members relayed residents’ concerns about solicitation.
Councilman Robert Diehl said he received a call from a concerned resident about a utility person coming to his door, which they were skeptical about.
Councilman Alvaro Gomez said he had a resident reach out to him about a representative from PSE&G coming to the door. Gomez said he advised the resident to call police and it turned out to be a legitimate PSE&G representative in the area.
Gomez suggested having utility companies formally communicate with the residents and let them know that they are coming out to the area.
“They didn’t do that in this case,” he said. “They didn’t want to leave the area and make an extra trip and police had to come to verify.”
Gomez said having utility companies provide formal notice so that residents are prepared would help alleviate any issues.
Council President Michael Lombardi asked if the department has heard of a new telephone scam where scammers call and the first question is “Can you hear me?” and if the person answers in the affirmative, the scammers could use that recording of “yes” to purchase items to people’s accounts.
Shannon said he has heard of the scam, but he said there have not been any reports of the scam in Edison as of yet. He said this is where public service announcements are crucial.
“We probably could do a better job with our social media pages with the police side,” he said.
Shannon said residents should always be on high guard. He said the department does try to proactively alert residents of these types of instances.
He said the department has been notifying certified neighborhood watch groups in the township when residential burglaries/break-ins were happening in certain watch group areas. He said the notifications have received a lot of positive feedback.
“Obviously, a knowledgeable community is definitely in our best interest so they can protect themselves,” said Shannon.
Diehl said he is going to work with Township Attorney William Northgrave on strengthening the township’s solicitation ordinance.
Officials said they will post the Edison Police Department’s social media pages for Facebook and Twitter for residents on the township’s web site at www.edisonnj.org.