Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Scammers are targeting Tampa Electric customers

Around 50 Tampa Electric Co. customers per day are being targeted in a common scam.
Scammers are targeting Tampa Electric customers. Pictured is Tampa Electric Co.'s headquarters in 2017. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times (2017)]
Scammers are targeting Tampa Electric customers. Pictured is Tampa Electric Co.'s headquarters in 2017. [CHRIS URSO | Times (2017)] [ URSO, CHRIS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 17, 2020

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.

Related: Florida utility regulators approve Tampa Electric storm hardening stepping stone

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.

Related: Florida had the second-highest number of federal complaints about robocalls in 2018

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.

THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first

UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.