2 Investigators: Fake Power Company Extorts Business

(CBS) — Small business owners can’t afford to lose any customers. Scammers know this and are using that fear to rip people off.

2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports.

It was a busy day at The Halal Guys restaurant when the assistant manager got a call about an overdue power bill.

“We needed to pay immediately or they would have shut the power off,” assistant manager Benjamin Kamp recalls of the conversation.

The caller said they had to pay $1,300 right away, using gift cards.

“I didn’t get a chance to stop and think it through,” Kamp says.

After paying the money and later checking with Com Ed, Kamp realized the whole thing was a scam.

“It was not good,” Kamp says. “I felt terrible, I felt responsible.”

Adds owner Vincent Tan: “They are basically to get businesses to pay up sort of in an extortion type of manner or blackmail type of manner.

After the scammers got the money, they tried again a few weeks later.

This time they wanted $900, but Tan knew is was a scam. He concedes his restaurant is probably a target now because they paid the first time.

It’s part of a fraudulent trend, ComEd officials says.

“Small business owners, certainly residential customers, certainly, we have seen those as the primary targets for these scam artists,” utility Senior Vice President Fidel Marquez says.

According to ComEd, there were 142 reports of scams in 2015; this year, there have been 1,500. That’s ten times more complaints.

“We never call and say, ‘You’ve got to pay us right now or we’re going to disconnect you right now,’” Marquez says.

Just a couple of days ago, the scammers left another message for Tan. He called them back during the interview with Zekman.

They once again told Tan that he owed money and that the power to the restaurant would be disconnected if he didn’t pay within hours.

When Zekman got on the line, the caller hung up.

Tan says he was able to absorb the cost of the scam but worries that other businesses might not be as lucky.

“Just be careful, never pay somebody over the phone with a gift card,” Tan cautions.

ComEd says if you are the victim of this type of scam you should let them know and contact the police and the Federal Trade Commission. These types of scams are difficult to track down because many are operated from foreign countries. Best advice: Hang up.

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