JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There's a consumer alert that people should be aware of as victims continue to contact News4Jax about phone calls from people claiming to be JEA workers then demand utility bill payments.
They may sound legitimate, but they can scam people out of money.
Now, small businesses have become a target.
News4Jax spoke on Wednesday to one Jacksonville business owner who said he's out $500 because he was told by a caller that he was behind on electric bills.
"It's embarrassing. No one wants to admit they've been taken," John Bradberry said.
Bradberry said he received a call last week from a man claiming to be with JEA. The caller said the power would be immediately cut if he didn't pay overdue electric bills.
"I had a meeting at 12, I couldn't have the power shut down. I had to deal with it then and there," Bradberry said.
A credit card or check was no good for payment. Bradberry was told to use a prepaid card, so he paid nearly $500 -- the amount he thought was owed.
"As I was scratching off the number, the one you have to give them to transfer the money, right above it, it says, 'Be aware of scams,'" he said.
Ironically, that's what he fell victim to because he later found out that he didn't owe JEA any money.
"I read about it on the internet, emails and warnings, and thought, 'Who falls for these things?'" Bradberry said. "I fell for it, I can't believe it."
News4Jax called the 800 number, and was able to get through within seconds, but the person who answered quickly hung up.
Bradberry said he also confronted the scammer after he realized it was a fraud.
"His exact words were, 'I perform a service just like you and I have to make a living,'" Bradberry said. "He had no remorse and he understood he was part of this criminal enterprise."
According to police, tracking the numbers may be difficult because many of them originate overseas.
Even though the scammers may not get caught, Bradberry hopes this story will keep someone else from making the same mistake.
News4Jax also contacted JEA about the scam, and the utility company said it continues to get complaints about people posing as JEA workers.
JEA issued the following statement:
"JEA is warning its customers to beware of scams involving utility bill payments.
"Recently, some JEA customers have been called, texted or visited in person, requesting a payment be made on a credit card number to avoid disconnection of services. JEA does not call its customers to make such requests.
"JEA customers at risk for disconnect are informed by JEA on their JEA bill, in a letter from JEA and via phone message by JEA representative. At no time will a JEA representative request a credit card number over the phone. Credit card payments are made through a third-party vendor via jea.com or JEA’s phone system. Both payment methods are initiated by the customer.
"The best defense is to know the current status of your account."