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Restaurateur nearly snared in utility shut-off scam

WHEATFIELD – Police are warning of a new telephone scam seeking money transfers to avoid utility shut-offs, following two recent cases, including one involving a prominent area restaurateur.

The owner of a popular Niagara Falls Boulevard eatery contacted sheriff’s deputies Sunday after a caller to his business, representing himself as an employee of National Grid, warned that the restaurant’s gas and electric service was about to be shut off for nonpayment.

The victim was advised to purchase pre-paid Green Dot credit cards, available at a local drugstore, and transfer the card amounts over the phone in order to avoid service shut-off. The victim bought $1,725 worth of cards before realizing he had paid his utility bills.

He quickly contacted National Grid, which advised him that the call was a scam. The victim then attempted to cancel the credit transactions, deputies said, without verifying whether he had been successful.

The incident was the second such in the past week, deputies said. The previous one involved an elderly resident who did not follow through with the monetary transfer. Investigators are probing the source of the calls, which appears to be from an area downstate.