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TECO phone scams on the rise

These scams are getting convincing, with spoofed phone numbers that look like Tampa Electric is actually calling.

TAMPA, Fla — It's a tactic that thousands of Floridians report each and every year: scammers pretending to be utility company employees. Tampa Electric has reported seeing an uptick in phone scams in recent weeks. 

"The scammers have been in overdrive since the pandemic started and we've actually seen a big uptick just in the last 2-3 weeks," Cherie Jacobs, TECO spokesperson said. 

The scam has become quite convincing. A call comes in, looking like it's Tampa Electric calling you. That's because scammers have started to spoof the numbers. If you take the call, the person on the other end tells you if you don't pay an outstanding balance, they'll shut your power off. 

Matthew Overton got one of those calls this week. 

"]I got a call] from allegedly TECO two days ago that said your electric bill has been unpaid," Overton explained. "'You have a balance of $500-something.' They're going to turn your power off in 30 minutes, you need to pay your bill."

Overton said the strangest part of the call was how nice the scammer was. He was given information on who to call and how to pay and wasn't pushed to pay immediately. 

"I get it though," Overton said in regards to people who fall victim to these scams. "I mean, I wasn't sure. I'm usually pretty sharp about that..."

Thankfully, he knew better than to pay after checking his account online. Unfortunately for Overton, it wasn't the only scam he had to screen in recent weeks. 

In August, Overton reported a scam to the Better Business Bureau of a person claiming to work for TECO knocking on his door to sell services. 

"He had this crummy clipboard and this dirty lanyard hanging," Overton said. "He said he was here to talk about net metering."

Overton described the conversation as less than pleasant, with the salesman speaking rudely and interrupting him. When Overton made it clear he wasn't interested, the man left abruptly.

"He goes, 'Alright good luck with that,' and kind of stormed off," Overton said.

TECO doesn't have or contract with door-to-door salesmen. 

"If someone is at your door claiming to have a relationship with TECO, please know, we are not affiliated with them," Jacobs said. 

Thousands of scams like these are reported to TECO and the BBB each year. 

"Customers reporting having heard from scammers last year was twice as high as the previous year," Jacobs said. 

In 2021, roughly 5,000 scams were reported. From January-August of 2022, roughly 2,000 scams were reported. 

If you've been a victim of a scam, TECO recommends you notify law enforcement and file a report to the BBB. If it's a utility scam, tell your provider too. It helps them better inform other customers of trending scams and work to protect against future ones. 

These scams are specific to a single utility company. TECO works with a consortium of utilities called Utilities Against Scams. 150 natural gas and electric utility companies join together to fight scammers and alert customers.

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