Scam Alert: callers say they work at TECO - WNCN: News, Weather

Scam Alert: callers say they work at TECO

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) - 8 On Your Side has a new warning about a power company scam that continues to swindle people out of thousands of dollars.

One of the latest victims was Moheb Admon, an owner of a gas station in Hillsborough County, who could have lost a couple grand if it wasn't for his fast-acting employee, Marie Thomas.

It all started with a phone call last week.

"Someone named Bobby said he was a supervisor at TECO Electric and that he needed him to pay his last two bills or they were going to interrupt his service within 45 minutes," Thomas said. "This being a station, you can't have service interrupted like that."

The caller wanted $2,000 worth in prepaid Green Dot cards.

"He caught him at a bad time," Thomas said. "It was during a busy time of the day and thinking as he does - his service is going to be interrupted - this is his busy time. This is his livelihood. What's he going to do? He's got to pay it."

When Thomas came into work, she warned Admon it was likely a scam. He managed to get $1,500 back because he didn't give out the cards' pin numbers, but lost the rest. He contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"You feel violated: people taking advantage of other people who are trying to do the right thing," Thomas said. "He's a good guy. He's just trying to make a living, support his family, put his kids through college and it's just sad this happens."

Tampa Electric warns that this scam has been impacting Bay Area customers, and others around the country, for about 2 years now.

"These scammers appear to be getting more sophisticated and what they're doing is called 'spoofing’," said Cherie Jacobs, spokesperson for TECO. "They're spoofing Tampa Electric's phone number so when you get the phone call on your cell phone, it looks like Tampa Electric is calling you. This makes it more believable."

Jacobs warns customers that TECO will never call you to demand payment.

"If you happen to be behind on your bill, we will notify you in writing," she said. "We will not ask you to go get a prepaid card and call us back."

Jacobs said since September, more than a thousand customers report they've have heard from these scammers. About 65 of them have fallen for this scam at the cost of a thousand dollars or more.

"This scam has evolved a little bit," Jacobs said. "They've been contacting small businesses, maybe a nail salon or a laundromat, some folks who might have more than one location, making it difficult to ascertain 'did I really pay that bill? Or did I forget?'"

She said the scammers are often contacting people during peak hours of the day, just like Admon.

"For example, they'll call a restaurant during the lunch rush. They'll call a doctor's office when they're in the middle of seeing patients," Jacobs said. "It adds to the element of confusion, making it more believable."

Anyone who's fallen victim should contact their local utility and report any lost money to their local law enforcement agency.

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