Sophisticated scam demands money or they will cut your power

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Scammers are targeting people in Southwest Florida, but this time they have more information than you would believe.

For three years Michele Bell has poured her heart and soul into Happy Tails, a dog grooming business. She’s successful because she knows how to manage her business and money, but recently, she was the victim of an elaborate scam. A few weeks ago, Bell received a call just before she closed her store.

“My phone rings and it was a gentleman on the other end identifying himself as an employee with FPL [Florida Power and Light],” Bell recalled.

The man told Michele he was going to cut her power because her August bill was overdue. She told him it had to be a mistake because she knew she had paid the bill. However, the man on the phone insisted it was correct and gave Michele a 1-800 number to call, to speak with a service agent. That “representative” told Michele she needed to pay a $400 bill from August or her power was going to be turned that night. Michele knew the caller had to be mistaken, so she started asking questions.

“I made him confirm my address without giving it to him, and he had my entire address including my suite number. I said can you make sure it’s the right account number? I said what account number do you have on that work number? And he recited a customer number. I then looked at my FPL bill, which is my costumer account number with FPL, and they had my account number,” she told WINK News.

Then, Bell demanded to speak to a supervisor. She was put on hold, and that is when this scam took a new twist.

“It was just a courteous automated thing. Please continue to hold you are a valued customer, we will be with you shortly. Then elevator music comes on, and then a man’s voice, ‘thank you for calling FPL, we value you as a customer. Just to let you know about some of our services, and it let you know about going green…It let me know about you could do automated payments and that sort of thing.'”

When the fake FPL supervisor answered, Michele continued to grill the scammers.

“They had my address, my phone number, my name and they had access to at least three {payment} amounts that I had made to FPL recently,” she said.

Her only option according to the scammers was to pay the $400 bill right then or lose her power. Bell knew she had customers coming the next morning, so she decided to pay the bill. The scammer also told her, if she found proof of her August payment, she could dispute the payment and she would get her $400 back. So, Bell purchased a pre-paid money card and called back the number the “supervisor” gave her to make a payment.

A few hours later, Bell tried calling back to make sure her service would not be interrupted; the number no longer worked.

WINK News called the real FPL. A spokesman told us there had not been a data breach, but he did say they were aware of a problem.

“What we’re understanding is that scammers are using customers phone numbers to get billing accounts and then using that information to sound like they’re legitimate,” Bill Orlove said.

Call for Action wanted to know what the company was doing to protect you.

“What I can tell you is that we’ve added new security measures from our phone system to keep this from happening,” Orlove told us.

Whenever you get a call and it sounds fishy, get the information. Take down the caller’s name and identification number then hang up. Call the number at the bottom of your utility bill and confirm what you were just told before paying. Remember, no legitimate utility service will ever ask for a prepaid money card for payment.

For more information click here.

Read more of what Bill Orlove, Senior Communication Specialist with FPL told WINK about this scam:

“This is a scam affecting utilities across the nation. The best thing FPL customers can do to protect themselves from being a victim of a scam is to recognize suspicious activity. Customers need to remember that FPL will never call and ask for credit card information or take prepaid cards as payment. Also, FPL will never ask for personal information from a customer unless they initiate the call. Our automated phone system is designed for the convenience of our customers and modeled after top industry standards to help customers in all situations pay their bills on time. For example, a person out-of-state could easily pay the bill for an elderly parent in Florida, just by calling the number on the bottom of the bill. Scammers were using a customer’s phone number to get billing amounts and then using that information to sound legitimate. We’ve added new security measures to the phone system to keep this from happening.

If customers get a call from a scammer, they can report it online to the Federal Trade Commission. Complaints are entered in their secure online database, which is used by many local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies. The complaint helps detect patterns of fraud and abuse, which may lead to investigations and arrests. FPL works with local and state law enforcement to investigate all cases of customer scams of which we are made aware.”

 

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