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Attention to detail made this TV hustle work

Gary Aycock couldn’t believe he fell for it.

The Santa Fe man got conned out of $280 in a DirecTV hoax, but it seems like the kind of thing that can happen to anyone because the perpetrators were so convincing.

“I pride myself on not getting scammed, and then I got scammed,” Aycock said.

The phone call came from a supposed AT&T representative (AT&T owns DirecTV) who pitched him on a deal that would provide HBO and other movie channels, as well as extra sports channels. The cost would be a flat $59 a month for 24 months for the channels Aycock was already getting, plus the new stuff. But the promotion was expiring at 9 p.m. that day, Aycock was told, so he had to move quickly by paying $280 upfront on a Green Dot cash card.

Give Aycock credit — he was suspicious and asked for proof, so the caller told him to turn on Channel 560. Sure enough, Aycock found a movie channel that he hadn’t had before.

That sealed the deal for Aycock, who now believed the caller was legitimate and paid the $280. He did get all the promised channels — as well as a DirecTV bill the next month for $200 instead of the $59 he was promised.

As Aycock put it: He was scammed.

AT&T did agree to reimburse him for the extra channels, but he’s still out the $280 upfront change.

It appears that whoever contacted Aycock had access to his account, although an AT&T spokesman said it was not due to a wider breach.

“The fraudster could have had access to information that was used to impersonate the customer,” AT&T spokesman Scott Huscher said. “We have attempted to reach the customer to discuss and help him avoid future scams.”

The company says one way scammers get into customer accounts goes like this: They ask AT&T to send a PIN to the customer, which is needed to get into the account. They then contact the customer and ask him or her to read that number over the phone, saying it’s a promo code needed to get the bogus deal. The customer reads it back to the scammer, who now has free rein on your account and can turn on channels to make the bogus deal seem legitimate.

(When you agree to pay them via gift or cash card, they gain access to the money by asking you to read the code on the back.)

While companies do offer discounts and special service deals, AT&T says a legitimate offer will not involve payment on a prepaid card. If you get this kind of pitch, call the customer service number on your bill and let the company know.

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The utility shut-off scam is back again — if it ever went away. Reminder that even if you are told you must pay up within the hour (usually with a gift card) or face a cold house, don’t fall for it.

A reader who owns and pays the bill for an assisted living center was subject to a similar threat. He called back the number the scammers left, but was suspicious and checked his account online. Sure enough, he was not in arrears and had no reason to worry about a shut-off.

A Federal Trade Commission warning says these kinds of calls have been hitting small businesses, from pretend gas, electric or water utility representatives.

“Their timing is often carefully planned to create the greatest urgency — like just before the dinner rush in a restaurant,” the FTC says.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

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