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FPL imposters target small businesses

Callers pretend there's issue with accounts to get money

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Florida Power & Light imposters are back at it targeting South Florida small businesses.

Igor Petronijevic and Jessica Wilson said they fielded calls from who they believe were people trying to steal money by threatening to shut off the power to the businesses they help manage.

Petronijevic is the operations manager for Day Market Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale

Wilson runs operations for Stratiform Gym near the Falls Shopping Center in Miami.

THE CALL:

"We got the call on Saturday night saying they were going to disconnect our service later that afternoon for non-payment," explained Petronijevi.  

Wilson said she first was notified by a gym manager, who said FPL called to say the gym was "red flagged, they are going shut our account down at FPL and we need to pay a bill for a deposit." The caller threatened to shut the power down in two hours. 

'WE PAID THE BILLS:'

The first red flag was the accusation that there was an outstanding balance. Both Petronijevic and Wilson were very certain all bills had been paid. 

"FPL bills in restaurants are thousands of dollars," explained Petronijevic. "He didn't really know that I am the one who pays all the bills, so I knew that we paid the bills."

"I'm like, 'Wait, I have paid every deposit,'" stated Wilson. "I went on yesterday and we are current."

Even though both knew they were current, Petronijevic worried about his customers and all the food that could go bad if the power were shut off.

"Especially with meats and everything being in a fridge for a whole weekend," said Petronijevic. "That's a lot of lost product."

Wilson was concerned about the safety of gym clients sweating it out on machines should the power be suddenly interrupted.

SPOT THE RED FLAGS:

Both began pressing the caller for specifics, and that's when they began to realize the call was a scam.

"I questioned him because, obviously, it sounded a little fishy to me," stated Petronijevic. "So I asked him for the address that he had, and he had the address for the restaurant but didn't know the suite number."

The caller bumped Wilson to a man claiming to be a manager.

"I noticed he had a very, very strong thick New York accent, and I deal with FPL all the time for the other businesses, and I'm like, 'Two guys in a row with this accent, that's kind of odd,'" explained Wilson. "Just his syntax and the way he was speaking and his grammar, I thought, 'Wow, this guy has never gone through a customer service training.' He tells me I need to go to the Dollar General store to get a MoneyGram for an express pay, and I'm thinking, 'This is not really how FPL works.'"

When the gym owner offered to pay in cash, the man on the phone provided an address in South Beach.

"Everyone who lives in Miami or knows FPL, the last place they are going to tell you to go is South Beach to pay a FPL bill," said Wilson.

SUSPICIOUS CALL? CALL FPL DIRECTLY TO CONFIRM:

"So I told him I would I call FPL to confirm everything," explained Petronijevic. "And I did. I called FPL. And they thanked me for calling them because it was a scam that the businesses get these calls supposedly fairly often on the weekends because they're worried that they'll get disconnected, and they won't get power until Monday. And, you know, that's loss revenue for two days."

SCAMMERS' NEW TRICK:

According to FPL, on some calls scammers are now playing an official FPL recorded message in an effort to appear legitimate.

If a person gets a call from someone claiming to be FPL and demanding money, he or she should hang up and call FPL directly.

Do not call the number the person provided or the number on caller ID. Scammers can spoof caller ID numbers or provide a false number.

Instead, locate FPL's actual customer service number located on a billing statement or website.

A CALL CHRISTINA COMMUNITY:

Experts said one of the best ways to combat economic crime is through consumer protection education.

Petronijevic and Wilson told their stories to empower others in the event they receive a similar call from a threatening voice trying to scare them into paying hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a phony FPL balance.

"I wanted everyone to know about this because I know that when you are running an operation from day to day, you just want it to function, or if you are a little more naïve or gullible you are going to pay it," explained Wilson. "I almost was ready to pay it on the phone with a bank account, so I just wanted people to be aware of these scams. They are very good at what they do."

PROTECT YOURSELF:

Scams, Fraud and Imposters: FPL's Consumer Protection Guide

Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV

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