AUGUSTA — You’ve survived five days of the worst Old Man Winter can dish out. Now, you’re heartened by the appearance of a friendly face at the door with the offer of a helping hand.
Just make sure that hand isn’t lifting your wallet while you’re thanking its owner for assistance.
State utility officials and Maine Attorney General Andrew Ketterer warned homeowners Monday against several particularly odious scams directed at elderly couples and single mothers who have been hard hit by the rigors of the five-day ice storm.
“There have been two reactions to the damage,” Ketterer said. “One is what those of us with battery-operated radios at home have heard: People pitched together to help out. On the other hand, a much smaller group of individuals see this as an opportunity to get rich at the expense of others.”
Throughout central and southern Maine, incidents of crews — sometimes representing themselves as Central Maine Power Co. employees — have told homeowners they must assume responsibility for removing fallen branches from the power lines in front of their homes.
The grifters then explain CMP will not restore power to the home until the debris is removed. Other versions of the same encounter have the service employees promising that power will be re-established more quickly if the debris is removed immediately.
In each case, the swindlers offer to undertake the job for various amounts of cash, Ketterer said. One unsubstantiated scam attempt in the Bridgton area reportedly carried a fee of more than $2,500.
Mark Ishkanian, CMP spokesman, said that although homeowners are responsible for the connection of the rigid masthead on their homes containing line leading from the CMP meter box to the utility pole, the responsibility of keeping branches off those lines belongs to the company.
“CMP wants its customers to know that it is the utility’s job to clear the service drop — the line from the utility to the pole — and we do it at no charge,” Ishkanian said. “We also want people to use caution with unsolicited offers from people claiming to be electricians who want to gain entry to their homes.”
In a report from Bangor, some workers offered to dispose of broken tree limbs and branches for a homeowner on the pretext that the city would not clean up the debris unless all branches were cut and collected into 3-foot-long bundles. Bangor officials maintain there is no length requirement for debris disposal.
Other incidents being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office include situations in which individuals posing as CMP employees ask homeowners to show them the electrical service panel. While the homeowner and one of the men are en route to the basement, a second thief ransacks the home.
Ketterer is also looking into complaints of price gouging from consumers who claim they’ve paid too much for everything from generators to kerosene. Door-to-door salespeople and off-the-truck vendors must be licensed by the state and those who are not face a jail sentence of up to three years and fines as high as $1,000.
Those wanting to file complaints of suspicious service offers or suspected price-gouging incidents are encouraged to contact the Maine Attorney General’s Office at 626-8849. Central Maine Power Co. customers may report similar incidents at 1-800-696-1000.