EAST WENATCHEE — Carmen Valdovinos answered a phone call Thursday morning that ended up costing her $300 that she unwittingly paid to a scammer claiming to be collecting for the PUD.
It was almost 10 a.m. It was hot outside. She was starting to cook lunch for the 12 children she looks after at her in-home day care.
The male caller spoke good Spanish, but with an accent that was not Mexican, she said. He told her that he was Jackson Ramirez, a collector for the PUD.
He said she owed $310.14, and that if she didn’t pay immediately, someone would be out in 10 minutes to shut the power off.
“All I could think of was not having power to keep the house cool for the children,” the 43-year-old Valdovinos said Friday in Spanish. “I was in the middle of cooking for them. I just got a mental block.”
In a panic she offered to make payments on what she owed, starting with $100. The man refused and again threatened to have her power shut off.
She told him she couldn’t leave home to cash a check and pay, because she had to take care of the children. She offered to call her sister. The man agreed. He hung up and called back a few minutes later.
“I told him that we were going to write him a check and make it out to the PUD, but he said no, to make it out to cash since it was no longer the PUD’s responsibility to collect,” she said.
He told her to cash the check, go to the 7-Eleven in East Wenatchee, buy a cash card and give him the access code. That’s what her sister did, over the phone from 7-Eleven. The scammer collected his money and Valdovinos never heard back.
Officials from the Chelan, Douglas and Grant PUDs all say they’ve received complaints about the scam, which appears to be directed at Hispanic customers. All say that they would never handle an overdue account in that way and advise anyone who receives a call to reported it to the police.
Meaghan Vibbert, spokeswoman for Douglas PUD said she had some warnings about the scam printed up in Spanish even before she’d heard about the Valdovinos incident. When she’d asked at the East Wenatchee 7-Eleven if she could post one there, the clerk refused, she said.
Valdovinos is not a newcomer to the area. She’s lived in East Wenatchee for about 23 years, but said the scammer was so persuasive that she became nervous and froze. She didn’t realize what had happened until it was too late. The caller ID on her phone showed that the man was calling from a 209 area code — Merced, California.
“People need to be alert to these calls, because they easily draw you in and its easy to become a victim,” she said. “I was so nervous. I just kept thinking about the children.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173