Scammers pretending to be TECO are targeting Bay Area small businesses

Threaten to cut off power if you don't pay up

TAMPA - Scammers are now targeting Bay area small businesses, attempting to trick them out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the phone.

Business owners on Florida Avenue have recently received calls where callers are pretending to be Tampa Electric and telling them that if they don't pay up in the next few hours, their power will be shut off.

Often, the caller will demand the business owner go to a local drugstore, purchase a prepaid debit or credit card number and then call a specific number back to pay up, said Cherie Jacobs, spokesperson for TECO.

To make matters more confusing, the scammers will spoof TECO's actual phone number, making it look like the call is actually coming from the electric company.

Greg Spadaccini, owner of Spaddy's Coffee Company, received one of the calls.

"He was very very rude," Spadaccini said. "Very pushy. Pretty much just demanding for me to call another number to pay the money."

The caller is usually very convincing, often even providing some personal information about the victim or their account, and they always have an urgent need to take a payment, sometimes even stating that law enforcement may get involved if the payment or debt isn’t paid, according to consumer experts with Hillsborough County.

The callers are usually very generous in accepting different payment types such as credit card or reloadable money card, sometimes even offering to accept gift cards, they said.

TECO said often the caller will target the business during their busiest hours, hoping to overwhelm the business owner.

"We will never call and demand credit or debit card number over the phone," Jacobs said. "We're not going to call you to let you know about this. We will alert you in writing with a final notice so you won't be surprised."

The Better Business Bureau has gotten 288 Scams Reported so far this year to BBB Scam Tracker across the United States.

Unfortunately, if payment has been made the money may be difficult or impossible to recover, but a call to law enforcement is the next step if payments are made to suspected scammers, Hillsborough County representatives said.

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