Better Business Bureau warns about holiday scam

Victim lured by promise to pay electricity bill  

Author: Elizabeth Berry, Evening assignment manager, beth@wjxt.com
Published On: Dec 16 2013 10:24:38 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 17 2013 06:56:14 AM EST
Holiday scam
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers of a Christmas scam that is targeting the needy this holiday season. 

Richard Hill found an ad on Craig’s list that he thought was an answer to all his problems -- a local church offering to help people struggling financially. 

The man claiming to be the pastor said they’d pay Hill’s $900 JEA bill that had roll over several times if Hill could make a $200 donation to help others in need.

“The gentleman I dealt with was very well spoken, all his lines were in order and there wasn’t anything that would suspect otherwise," Hill said. "It didn’t raise any immediate red flags once I started dealing with him and discussing it.”

Hill gave the “pastor” $200 and the man said he paid the electricity bill.

“I called JEA line and it said I had a zero balance on my account," Hill said. "At that point I didn’t have any reservations about it. I thought it was completely legit at that point because my balance had been paid.”

Five days later, the check used to pay Hill’s account bounced.

“I was just getting up at about eight, just getting ready to go out and do some work for the day and just as I was getting out of bed, all my power went out,” said Hill.

Tom Stephens with the BBB said con-artists are especially on the prowl during the holidays because people are often more vulnerable.

“Their mind gets a little clouded with trying to meet those needs and so they’ll do stupid things that they wouldn’t do any other time of year,” said Stephens.

Stephens warns consumers to be careful this holiday season and be sure to check out charities before making donations.

“Number one, you never give any charity cash, except maybe Salvation Army Kettle. You give credit cards so you can dispute those charges if you discover you’re being scammed later on,” said Stephens. “People who do this are lower than worms, as far as I’m concerned.”

Hill is worse now than when he started and trying to figure out how he’ll come up with $1,100 to pay JEA.

“When you’re using the cover of a church group and you’re scamming families that are already down on their luck, that’s just as low as you can get right there, that’s just a sorry person,” said Hill.