Collier business owner warns others about utility scam sweeping through SWFL

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A new utility scam is sweeping through Southwest Florida.

Jim Washburn has put in a lot of sweat equity building up his Collier County business, Happy Wallet Quality Auto Repair.

But recently, scammers have set their sights on his hard-earned money.

“I don’t know how they found me. They just found me—online or something and called the office,” Washburn said.

Washburn said it all started with a call from somebody claiming to be with the power company and threatening to shut off the power to his business, unless he paid a late bill for $492.16.

Unsure of how it happened but desperate to keep his power on, Washburn followed their instructions, putting the payment on a prepaid money card.

Once the money was transferred from the card to the scammers, they called him back, demanding even more money.

“Actaully they wanted me to come back after getting the $492 or whatever it was. Then they wanted me, ‘oh, I have to put you on with my boss’. He said the first guy messed up, and that they actually have a $750 deposit they started on all businesses,” Washburn said.

That’s when Washburn thought something wasn’t right and called his utility company.

“I called here and got the number from them and called them and they said you’re being scammed,” he said.

And now, Washburn just wants to make sure others don’t see the same fate.

“Be wary of everything and verify whenever somebody calls you up on the phone and you don’t know who it is. Check it out with the big company because it’s easy for them to scam you and give you a bunch of malarkey,” Washburn said.

To avoid being scammed like this, here are some red flags to keep an eye out for:

  • The scammers had bad reception and had to keep trying to reconnect the call
  • When telling Washburn where to go to get a gift card to put the money on, they told him not to mention to the store clerk what the card was for, because the store would charge him more

In addition, more and more store clerks are helping protect customers from getting ripped off. When in doubt, ask them for help.

For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

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