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‘Meter readers’ con residents with fake bills

2012-11-28 14:31 Global Times     Web Editor: Zang Kejia comment

A group of swindlers has been impersonating water company employees to trick residents into buying water purifiers, or paying a fake water bill, Beijing Waterworks Group warned Tuesday. 

The group said it will never sell purifiers to residents, and their official meter readers will wear name tags. 

"The waterworks group will never try to sell anything to residents nor will we directly ask for cash," an anonymous staff member from the group's media office told Global Times.

The group declared in an announcement it sent to the Global Times that fraudsters have visited a residential compound in Huayuan Beilu, Haidian district, three times since mid-October. The swindlers claimed to be water meter readers from the waterworks group, and once inside their homes, tried to sell home water purification equipment to the residents.

Still others tried to persuade residents to give them cash directly to pay their water bills, the group said.

A resident of Hujialou, Chaoyang district, surnamed Zhang, told the Global Times on Tuesday that a trickster tried to dupe her last weekend.

"A man in a blue jacket, who looked to be in his 40s, knocked on my door last Saturday morning. He said he was a water meter inspector, so I let him in. But then he said he was coming to collect the water bill, and gave me a payment slip which showed I owed 480 yuan ($77)," said Zhang.

Zhang said she was immediately suspicious, as she had only just paid. 

"I just went to the bank three days ago to pay the bill, so how can the staff come back so soon?" she said. 

Moreover, Zhang said the bill was dated in June, and she found it dubious as she always pays on time. 

"When I told him about this, he stammered, said it might be a mistake and quickly left," Zhang said.

In its announcement, Beijing Waterworks Group said residents should check the credentials of meter readers.

"Please identify the inspectors as all of our staff will wear name tags. If you don't trust them, call our hotline 96116," the announcement reads.

However, when the Global Times consulted the hotline, the anonymous operator said they would not be able to confirm if an inspector was bona fide.

"Even if they [inspectors] are wearing name tags, we can't identify them," the operator said.

Zhang remembered the self-declared inspector did not wear a name tag, and when the following day a woman who claimed she also was a water meter inspector also knocked on the door, she did not answer this time.

The group's announcement said that Beijing's tap water meets the national standard and does not negatively impact human health. However, it also recommended that residents boil all water before drinking it.

"The purifiers they [fraudsters] sell will consume several times more liters of tap water, which is waste. We hereby call everyone to treasure the water resource," the group said.

It did not mention how much the purifiers cost, or if they were genuine products.

The waterworks group admitted this situation has caused them difficulties, as homeowners often deny admittance to genuine inspectors.

However, it is not only criminals who claim to be water meter inspectors; law enforcement agents have also used this as an excuse.

According to the Anhui News on November 18, bailiffs from Bengbu, Anhui Province, pretended to be meter readers to force a hospital owner, who was refusing to honor a court-imposed fine after a patient died in his hospital, to open his door to them. The man was obliged to pay his fine. 

Zhang Zhiqiang, a Beijing-based lawyer who specializes in civil law, said residents have the right to refuse water meter readers from entering homes if they cannot prove their identity.

"Name tags can be faked and have no legal validity, so meter inspectors should inform residents properly with their identity by, let's say, showing their ID card and work permit, otherwise citizens can simply refuse to open the door," said Zhang.

"Anyone who tries to force their way into a home will have broken the law," Zhang noted.

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