Scammers who spoofed local business' number 'just killing our reputation,' owner says
EDMONTON -- The way his phone rings, you’d think Frank Stamatakis’ plumbing and heating business is booming.
But too many calls go something like this:
“Hi,it’s Dollarwise Plumbing. How can I help you?” he answers the phone.
“So sorry. Must’ve called the wrong number,” the man on the other end says.
But Stamatakis knowingly asks, “Did you by any chance receive a call from us?”
Sure enough, the caller – like thousands of others at this point – had.
“So, it was not me that was calling. Unfortunately, we had somebody – they spoofed our phone lines,” Stamatakis explains.
He tells the caller his phone hardly stops ringing – which was true during a couple hours he spent with CTV News Edmonton.
“Oh, no kidding,” the man replies.
The conversation goes similarly later with a woman who says she also missed a number from Dollarwise Heating and Plumbing.
And a short while later, another man.
“That’s weird stuff, hey,” he comments to Stamatakis, adding, “You be careful, too, there, sir.”
This has been the situation for months.
“Today’s I can manage,” the owner of the family business told CTV News Edmonton, motioning to his iPhone. “Generally, I can’t.”
What he has been told by the callers is they received a call from what appeared to be his number. Those who’ve talked with a person on the other end say the scammers pretend to offer furnace-cleaning services – something Stamatakis does not provide – then later try to get payment from a victim prior to the made-up job.
“They've spoofed their number and they are now calling people around Edmonton,” explained Det. Jason Lapointe of the Edmonton Police Service’s economic crimes section.
“If you were to check that number on Google… that search is going to come up and find that that number is valid.”
The police officer said it’s a common tactic for criminals to use apps to disguise their number.
“You could spoof somebody's number and give that ability to make it look like you were calling but you were somebody else that was calling.”
When Stamatakis first started receiving callbacks, he filed a police report, talked to his service provider, Rogers, and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
He was told by all three there is little they could do except recommend he change his phone number.
“How do you change a phone line you’ve had for 30 years? You may as well kiss your business goodbye,” Stamatakis said.
“We have fridge magnets (in) their homes, all of our invoices, you know, our stickers on hot water tanks and furnaces. Everybody knows who we are. All of our repeat customers. All of our seniors look at that fridge and know with confidence when they call us, they’re going to get good service. We’re an extremely honest company and this is just killing our reputation.”
People have told to Stamatakis they’ve received a call from his business as early as 4 a.m.
Some have complained in Facebook and Google reviews that Dollarwise harasses people for business.
The owner says that’s not true: “We’ve never, in 30 years, made a cold call for a job.”
Yet, his phone is busier than ever. The calls come in bouts, as fast and furious as 40 per minute sometimes.
“Your phone cannot even hang up fast enough before another line is coming in.”
Then, it’ll be quiet for a few days before starting up again.
Stamatakis has decided to wade through the phone calls and online messages as best he can.
“We’ve been a successful little business, and that’s the way we’d like to keep it.”
He reminds every caller not to release their personal information, or even to answer an unknown number.
“You should only be paying for a job after it’s completed and you’re satisfied. That’s always how we’ve done business and how everybody else should as well.”
And while his case has also been passed along to the federal anti-fraud centre, Det. Lapointe says it is difficult to track down culprits when the scam originates from outside Canada. Usually, he added, they move on eventually. In the meantime, public education is key.
“But there's no such thing as an edge to the earth, so they're somewhere, and we will work through this and we'll figure it out.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Bill Fortier