I consider myself a smart person, who would never fall for a scam. But boy, the other day, I feel like I came as close as I ever want to. Here's what happened.
I got a call from an unknown number. My phone didn't say, "SCAM LIKELY" like it often does. It simply showed a phone number that was a 904 number, so I thought I'd answer it. Mind you, I'm never worried about these calls from scam numbers. Sometimes, I answer and don't say a word and they hang up. Sometimes, I say hello and figure I'll mess with the caller. I'm never worried about it, even though they say you shouldn't even answer at all.
Well, I answered this call and immediately, it was a recorded message, saying that my electricity is set to be disconnected for a delinquent bill. My first reaction was, "What? I know I paid that bill recently." But it quickly went to, "I think I paid that bill. Didn't I? I think. I hope. I better find out what's going on." So, I pressed the number that sent me to a customer service rep.
I tell the guy what's going on... that I thought I paid my bill but I got this call that I was delinquent. Meanwhile, I looked up my checking account to check the last time I paid that bill and it was April 20th, so at that point, I really wanted to know what the heck was going on. The customer service rep had a thick foreign accent, which again, didn't raise any flags for me. I mean, I've dealt with reps who had such thick accents, I had to ask them to slow down and repeat their speech, more than once during a conversation. My father was in this country for over 40 years and some people thought he still had a thick Italian accent. So, the accent didn't raise a red flag for me.
The guy proceeds to tell me that we are now required to have some kind of device on our electric meters to more accurately measure because some people were saying they were getting over charged for electricity... something like that. He claimed that where I lived, we were required to put a deposit down for this device and they had notified me of this but I did not pay it so I now needed to pay that so my bill would be current.
About a million things went through my mind at this point, one being that I live in a condo and why wouldn't our condo community manager inform us of this? It all sounded a bit weird and unfair. So, before I just ponied up some money, I was going to question this unfairness and do what I do best... ask a million questions. Mind you, I still wasn't thinking this was a scam, I was thinking more along the lines of how did I miss the notification about this? Because I'm on the morning show, I tend to be very current on news, especially local news and I was puzzled as to how I missed this whole thing about some new device on electric meters that customers are now required to pay for.
So, my first question was about being notified regarding this device. I asked the customer service rep how we were notified. He claimed that at least two notifications were sent with our bills. Well, that made sense to me. It was entirely plausible that I could have missed this information. When I get my bill, I'm quick to pay it and I usually just give a brief glance, if any glance at all, to any other literature included in my bill, then I throw it all out and move on. So, this could have happened. I could have been sent two notifications on this by mail and not seen them and simply moved on with my life.
But don't worry, I wasn't done with questions. My next question was who authorized this... who said we had to have this. He told me the city did. At that point, I'm thinking... the city? I live in Ponte Vedra Beach.... Ponte Vedra Beach isn't some city with a mayor and councilmen. We are covered under St. Johns County. PVB doesn't really seem to authorize anything. He also stumbled at one point and may have said something about JEA. Funny, I'm not a customer of JEA, because I live in PVB, which is covered by Beaches Energy.
So, when he said the city authorized it, my first question was what city? I said something to the effect of.. because I don't even live in Jacksonville, I live in St. Johns County and I am not a customer of JEA. At that point, guess what? The scammer hung up. Yep, gone like the wind, hung up, gone. That's when I realized it was nothing but a scam.
So, at that point, I called my electric company, Beaches Energy, and reported what had happened. A real customer service rep took my info and said they had gotten reports that this scam was going around. He said these scammers were spoofing the number of JEA. He took my info, said that he would pass the word along to co-workers and thanked me.
I thought back through the conversation with the scammer, to make sure I didn't give him any information he could use to take my money. I had given him my last name and my address. That was it. Thank goodness. I mean, this was a little too close for comfort. If this scammer had been better at what he was doing, would I have figured it out before I did give him information he COULD use to take my money and/or identity or both? I would hope so.
But it's just a good reminder to always be on alert. If something sounds a little off, it probably is. Don't be afraid to ask questions, there is nothing wrong with that... you should ask questions, you should get all the information you feel you need before you give any information, especially when it comes to money. Trust your gut and your mind. If you do feel there was an attempt to scam you, report it. The more information that gets out about these incidents, the more we can raise awareness and keep people from being victims.