JEA Warns Of Scam Targeting Jacksonville Businesses, Demanding Payment
Jacksonville businesses are being targeted by scammers pretending to employees of the JEA public utility.
Stacey Goldberg, owner of downtown’s Urban Grind Coffee Company, said scammers targeted her about a month ago.
Goldberg was sitting in the courtyard outside her coffee shop Tuesday. The location has been open for just over two years on Bay Street.
“A lot of long nights and weekends,” she said, “A lot of work.”
She said one busy morning she received a call from someone claiming to be a JEA tech. He told her he was coming to shut off her power unless she paid using a prepaid debit card. She said the shop was slammed, so she took down the man’s number and asked her husband to call him back.
“Long story short, we have our JEA automatically paid so we knew that it wasn’t a legit call,” she said.
But she said the man was convincing and she can see how others might fall for it. The scammers even called the business a few days later, continuing to ask for payment.
“They really have you snowed pretty well, it’s not a fly by night scam,” she said. “I think they’ve done their research and they’re trying to catch you off guard.”
She said the JEA impersonator started getting angry with her husband when he wouldn't pay, and JEA Spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said that’s what these scammers do.
“They use fear as a factor in intimidation in getting people to pay,” she said. “Some businesses have lost more than $1,000.”
Boyce said there’s been an uptick in reported scam calls. In Jacksonville, scammers impersonating utilities have targeted veterinarians, car dealers and hair salons. They also call residential customers. Boyce said the scammers can appear to be JEA on caller ID.
“Your number one defense against these people is to know the current status of your account,” Boyce said.
She said accounts can be checked online or with a phone call to JEA, at 904-665-6000. JEA also has a section of its website dedicated to scam prevention, detailing scams that have happened in Jacksonville. She said scammers are using all kinds of tactics, including claiming they need payment to change a meter, which JEA doesn’t do.
Boyce also said JEA will never ask people to pay over the phone with a prepaid debit card.
Customers who miss payments will receive notice on the following month’s bill they’re in danger of “disconnect for non-pay.” The notice will then be followed with a letter in the mail. And power still won’t be cut off until after the third point of contact, which will be an automated call.
Boyce said this scam isn’t unique to Jacksonville.
“We are working with other utilities and recording these instances and with law enforcement to catch these folks,” she said. “Even if they get one of two people to fall for it, it's worth their time to do it.”
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.