BY ROBERT MORALES
The call came in at 6:15 a.m. to Hotel El Capitan. The caller announced himself as an El Paso Electric customer service representative telling the desk clerk that the hotel was about to have its electricity shut off.
The clerk, somewhat startled, immediately called manager Ralph Gilmore at home. When Mr. Gilmore returned the call to a John Rappaport, it was apparent that something wasnâ€™t quite right.
Mr. Rappaport told Mr. Gilmore that the hotelâ€™s electricity would be disconnected for nonpayment at 8 a.m. Mr. Rappaport said the hotel owed $1,990.97 for a December bill.
When Mr. Gilmore arrived at the hotel, he went through the caller ID, and he jotted down the phone number for the caller. The number was 801-822-0601; however Mr. Rappaport told the clerk to call 800-650-2826.
Mr. Gilmore decided to call the 801 number, and he was in for a surprise. The person who answered accidentally dropped the phone, a cell phone, not a switchboard, and the person began to curse profusely.
Mr. Gilmore recognized the voice as the same person who answered on the 800 number. Mr. Gilmore played along to extract more information from Mr. Rappaport.
It turned out that Mr. Rappaport was not the smartest person in the world. Mr. Rapport could easily recite the hotelâ€™s physical address, but as everyone in Van Horn knows, bills are not mailed to physical addresses. Mr. Rapport didnâ€™t know the post office box number.
Another red flag went off for Mr. Gilmore when Mr. Rappaport said he needed a “minimum payment.â€ As Mr. Gilmore pointed out, an electric bill is all or nothing.
But it didnâ€™t end there. Mr. Rapportâ€™s scheme required that the hotel immediately send the nearly $2,000 to greendot.com, a payment company or to Money Pack, another payment service company.
The FBI has been notified.
Locals are asked to be on the alert for such calls. It appears that the scammer is only targeting businesses at this point, but that is not certain.
If you receive a suspicious call asking for payment of your electric bill, you should notify the local EPE office at 432-283-2086 or the main El Paso number at 800-351-1621.