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Tacoma Public Utilities warns of stranger impersonating worker

FREDRICKSON, Wash. – Be on the lookout for a man posing as a public utility worker and wearing a phony badge, Tacoma Public Utilities says.

One customer told the utility a phony worker knocked on his door, but during their conversation, the homeowner said something didn’t seem quite right.

It happened recently in a Fredrickson neighborhood near 176th Street East, and some worry this type of scam could only be heating up.

“We’re concerned for our customer’s safety,” said Norah Doyle with TPU.

Doyle said the utility's customer knew something didn’t feel right about the stranger holding a made-up employee badge.

“They noticed there was no utility vehicle around, the ID badge looked kind of funny, so he told the man he needed to leave,” said Doyle.

The phony worker left without incident. That’s when the customer called the utility's office to report what happened. Then TPU blasted the story on Facebook as a warning for customers

“He did absolutely the right thing, he spoke up and said you need to go,” said Doyle.

“It’s scary stuff,” said David Quinlan with the Better Business Bureau. “We’ve gotten reports of it on BBB Scam Tracker since October, and we expect it to spike in the next few months.”

The BBB said it hears similar complaints more often as spring and summer come around.

“We worry that the perpetrator coming to the door posing as a utility company, what they’re trying to do is get inside your house, canvas the property, look around,” said Quinlan. “So when you’re not there, who knows, maybe they’re want to burglarize your house.”

Q13 News has reported similar incidents before across the Puget Sound region.

In 2014 in Everett, police said a group people posing as door-to-door vacuum sellers may have been burglarizing homes. A complaint about aggressive sales people came from Snoqualmie Ridge neighbors only days later.

Now that there has been a report of someone impersonating a Tacoma Public Utility worker, TPU said there are ways homeowners can protect themselves.

Each agency worker has their photograph on the ID badge with an employee number printed on the back and a phone number to call for wary customers to verify employment.

“If we have to come into your house it’s because you’ve set up an appointment with us, we would never knock on your door and say we need to come in,” said Doyle.

Or if you’re not sure the solicitor is legit, the BBB said don’t be afraid to shut them down.

“There are legitimate people out there trying to make a living and they go door to door and I understand that,” said Quinlan. “But it’s a risky move when you want to make a transaction, wheel-and-deal with someone that comes to the door, so realize that.”

TPU says if its customers think they have been contacted by the same phony worker don’t be afraid to call police.