A combination of the pandemic, this past winter and the upcoming summer have caused a serious spike in scams targeting customers of Florida Power & Light Company (FPL).
The scams involve predators posing as representatives of the utility company calling households and threatening to turn off the lights unless the bill is paid immediately.
“Anyone and everyone, from senior households to small-business owners, is at risk of being targeted,” said Monica Martinez, of Utilities United Against Scams, in a South Florida Sun Sentinel story titled “About your unpaid FPL bill: That caller might be a scammer.”
Do not be fooled. The scammers are sophisticated enough to have the phone’s caller ID falsely read it is coming from FPL, so it looks like it is originating from the company. It is not. The ruse goes like this:
- The scammers insist they are calling about a delinquent account.
- The scammers then threaten to shut down the electricity within the hour unless a payment is made.
- Sometimes, the scammers throw in a scare tactic by saying a truck is on the way to do
- The scammers demand payment via a prepaid card or a wire transfer.
All of it is bogus, yet customers continue to fall victim to it.
“A listener wrote to us recently that she had been scammed by people posing as Florida Power & Light representatives,” according to WLRN-FM. “They asked for her bank account information and unfortunately, she gave it. FPL spokesperson Matt Eissey says this is nothing new.”
Eissey said those who receive a call from a scammer should hang up and report it to the police.
“What I want our customers to understand is that FPL will never call threatening disconnection and demanding payment via prepaid card or wire transfer,” he said.
Fantastic Wellness Center in West Palm Beach realized in the nick of time it was being scammed when a call that played out like the above came in.
“I don’t want the lights to go off all of a sudden,” the center’s Dr. Olayemi Osiyemi told WPBF-TV. “Nobody will have any idea what’s going on.”
Osiyemi initially decided pay the bill – all $800 of it – via credit card.
“And he said, ‘No, we actually can’t take a credit card,’” Osiyemi said. “‘We can’t take a check, because this has been very arduous. It’s been two months that you haven’t paid. We can take cash.’”
The scammer directed Osiyemi to a drop box a few miles away.
“If I were to go to this location, someone could have pulled a gun on me, stolen my car, shot me, stole my money,” Osiyemi said. “So, there’s a safety concern.”
FPL has a page on its Web site about scams and how to protect against them. On it, the company issues the following warning: “Scammers are aggressively targeting utility company customers across Florida and the rest of the country using sophisticated tactics to pocket quick cash. We continue to help provide our customers information on the most commonly used scams and how you can protect yourself by partnering with more than 100 utility companies across the country and sharing the latest scam-related information.”
There also is a link on the page to report the scam directly to FPL. The company states it never will threaten customers, request immediate payment or deactivate service if a demand is not met.
“We encourage customers to be on high alert and take action if they believe they have been involved in a scam incident,” FPL’s Christopher Chapel told WFTX-TV. “Our commitment is to our customers and their safety and we created the online scam reporting feature to help customers report scam incidents faster and easier.”
The company additionally states it will not ask for personal information unless the call originates from the customer. Asking for personal information is another type of scam that occurs during severe-weather situations, such as a winter storm in northern climes or a hurricane in the tropics. When the power goes out, scammers go on the offensive.
“They might call to say that they’re sorry your power went out and offer a reimbursement, but first they need your bank account information,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. “They might email you to say that there’s an error in their system, and you have to give them personal information so they can turn your gas on again. They could even threaten to leave your utilities shut off if you don’t send them money immediately. But those are all lies.”