TAMPA — The calls look legitimate. Tampa Electric Co.‘s real phone number pops up on a customer’s phone, and a voice on the other end says they represent the utility.
Sometimes it’s an automated voice message, but the news is the same: if the customer doesn’t pay their overdue electricity bill within the hour, their service will be shut off.
Except it isn’t Tampa Electric.
“We’re not disconnecting people (for nonpayment) right now because of the pandemic,” utility spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said.
Scammers have increasingly targeted customers of the Tampa-based utility, reaching roughly 50 customers per day recently, Tampa Electric said. Some customers have been tricked out of as much as $1,500.
Most often, the scammers will ask for payment through a prepaid debit card or a money order.
So-called “spoofing” scams are common. An unauthorized person makes it look like they’re calling from a legitimate source and demands money from a customer. It’s plagued Tampa Electric for the past eight years, Jacobs said.
Customers can protect themselves against this scam by keeping an ear out for a few key details, Jacobs said.
First, the utility doesn’t call to ask for credit or debit card numbers, and it always verifies a customer’s account information first, which can include the last four digits of their Social Security number.
And Tampa Electric won’t visit a customer in person to demand payment. If someone from the utility does show up at your door, ask to see their ID — the utility requires its employees to have photo identification.
Another big giveaway during the pandemic is a threat to disconnect a customer’s service for failing to pay their bill. Tampa Electric pledged to keep customers connected during this time regardless of whether they can afford their payments.
Still not sure? Call the utility directly. For those in Hillsborough County, call 813-223-0800, or call 863-299-0800 in Polk County. All other areas can ring 1-888-223-0800.
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