JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4Jax has recently received hundreds of calls from viewers who have been harassed by scammers claiming to be electric companies, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or lawyers.
Most of these scams start with a phone call and continue with the scammer asking for money.
In a panic, many people hand over their hard-earned money to a convincing crook.
But News4Jax spoke to the Better Business Bureau to find out how people can avoid being a victim of the top three scams in the Northeast Florida area.
Electric company scams
Aaron Nelson, owner of Aaron’s Car Care, said he got a call from something claiming to be with the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) and saying his bill was past due.
Nelson said it sounded like the real deal.
“I try not to be too naïve when it comes to scams,” Nelson said. "He said, ‘If it isn't taken care of by 6 this evening, your power will be turned off.’ I was like, ‘Man, I can't have the power turned off.’"
So Nelson paid up with $700 worth of Green Dot prepaid cards. Then he told his wife, who said she had already paid the JEA bill.
“She tells me, ‘It’s all paid. Here’s the receipts,’” Nelson said.
Nelson then called JEA and found out the caller was an imposter, and there was nothing he could do to get his money back.
"It absolutely infuriates me that people work that hard to steal from you,” Nelson said. “It’s embarrassing, because you fall for something so silly.”
It's become a growing problem. Tom Stephens, with the Better Business Bureau, said people posing as electric company representatives, like JEA and Beaches Electric, are one of the top scams in Northeast Florida. Stephens said even if someone is past due paying their bill, the electric company won’t call.
"They'll send you a bill. They'll give you a cut-off date. If you don't pay by that time, you get cut off, that's it,” Stephens said.
Another top scam that many people are falling for are IRS collectors, claiming money is owed threatening to arrest anyone who doesn’t pay up.
The scammers will ask for people to wire money or use prepaid debit cards like Green Dot, even purchase iTunes gifts cards, to give them the money.
“You can’t pay your bill with Keith Urban songs. It doesn’t work,” Stephens said.
Florida Bar scams
The Florida Bar scam has also taken advantage of a lot of people. Con artists use the name of a local attorney, threatening to jail time if the person doesn’t pay off a loan.
Stephens said that should be a red flag.
“If you do owe money, it’s a civil issue, not a criminal issue. You can’t be thrown in jail,” Stephens said.
More than $7 billion was lost in phone scams last year, and anyone who’s a victim should not count on getting their money back.
New technology had made it easier than ever for scammers to be untraceable.
“You can’t reach them. You can’t find them. You can’t identify them,” Stephens said.
The Better Business Bureau recommended people ignore unfamiliar numbers, let it go to voicemail or just hang up.