Consumer alert: Prosecutors say man posed as meter reader to commit murder

A man accused of posing as a meter reader to commit murder highlights the importance of following a few precautions when somebody claiming to be from the utility knocks on your door.

Just days before Willie Bell, of Chicago, shot a romantic rival, he bought a workman’s vest and helmet, prosecutors said. The helmet had “meter inspector” written on it.

Surveillance video shows the victim, Timothy Lawrence,  allowing Bell, whom he didn’t know, enter his home. Bell and Lawrence had been dating the same woman–and social media posts show that Bell was angry about his relationship with the woman ending, prosecutors said.

Obviously, this is an extreme case of the utility imposter scam that CUB has warned about before. Normally, it doesn’t involve murder–just greed. Here’s how the scam usually works: 

Con artists posing as utility workers call or visit consumers’ homes and demand quick payment to avoid a service shutoff. They instruct victims to purchase a prepaid credit card and to call them back with the card’s personal identification number (PIN).  (In the door-to-door version, the scammer may try to gain access to a person’s home to steal valuables or at least get the homeowner to reveal personal or account information.)

Follow these tips to protect yourself:

*Never give out financial or account information to anyone who calls you or knocks on your door claiming to be from your utility. (And never make a payment at your door.)

*Don’t be afraid to ask for an ID. Utility employees are required to carry a company photo ID.

*Don’t ever let a person into your home if you’re uncomfortable doing so. Call your utility. It can verify if an employee has called or been dispatched to your home. The utility also can tell you your account status. Here are the best contact numbers for Northern Illinois’ biggest utilities.

ComEd 1-800-EDISON1

Nicor Gas 1-888-NICOR4U

Peoples Gas 1-866-556-6001

North Shore Gas 1-866-556-6004

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About Jim Chilsen

Jim is director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB)
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