Consider the Source

The letter threatened Maria Cortez

…with a $10,000 lawsuit unless she called immediately to pay the company a lesser amount in settlement. Scams can come from any direction, so a successful advocate must always be on guard.

Maria Cortez

Help Now! advocate Jolie Wilson became suspicious when she read the letter addressed to client Maria Cortez. The letter came from a Colorado-based company called Secure Signals, Inc. The letter said the local cable company, Charter Communications, had detected that Cortez had been pirating additional cable service. The letter threatened to sue Cortez for $10,000 dollars unless she called the company immediately and reached a settlement to pay them a lesser amount.

Cortez was frightened, and came to Help Now! for assistance after being referred by a community leader.

“We suspected it was a scam, from the appearance of the letter. There was no apartment number on the letter,” says Wilson. “Turns out they were legit, authorized by Charter. But then we thought maybe it was someone else who modified the cable box, and Charter was just fishing for the real perpetrator, because perhaps their equipment merely detected a non-specific leak in the cable signal.”

Complicating the matter was Cortez’s reporting that she had recently seen a man carrying a Charter Communications tool bag and working on the cable box that serviced multiple apartments including hers. Charter had no record of this service call, the man was not wearing a Charter uniform, and there was no Charter truck.

Even though Cortez does not have the technical skills to modify a cable signal, Help Now! at least had to consider the possibility that someone else in her household (or a friend) did have the skills. Perhaps she was withholding information.

Advocacy can be a delicate matter when it’s one person’s word against another. You need to consider the source. In this situation, the client came referred to Help Now! by a trusted community partner, Kathy Keesee of the Medford non-profit, Unete. In addition, Kathy reported that she knew the family well. These factors, coupled with Help Now!’s assessment of client credibility in the course of interviews, led to our taking up Cortez’s cause with the corporations involved.

“When I went to visit the family, it was clear that none of them had any electrical skills. What convinced me was when she told me about the wires sticking out of the cable box. She showed it to me, and it turned out to be the phone box, not the cable box,” says Keesee.

All indications pointed to a situation where a scared and technologically unsophisticated woman was being pressured by a large corporation that didn’t know the specific source of its cable signal leak.

The ending of this case supports that theory.

After Wilson made calls to the local police requesting their assistance in finding the perpetrator as well as several calls to both Secure Signals and Charter Communications, she received notification that Charter had reconsidered its position and that upper management had issued a “Do not pursue” directive in the Cortez case.

Wilson had informed Charter’s Fraud Department that Help Now! had involved the police on Cortez’s behalf and that all adults and youth in the family were willing to sign and present affidavits that they were not involved in any signal tampering.

“Help Now! never simply takes what a client says as the truth and runs with it. We always assess credibility, and doing so involves considering the referral source and how well that source knows the prospective client and here it was very well,” says Help Now! Executive Director, Larry Kahn.

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