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Scammer Targets Ocala Electric Utility Customers

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A recent scam has targeted about 30 Ocala Electric Utility customers the second for the city in two months.

Customers and businesses have reported receiving phone calls or emails asking them to pay their bill immediately over the phone or risk their having their power shut off or car towed, said Katie Hunnicutt, a city of Ocala spokeswoman.

Once notified of the scam, Ocala Electric Utility posted a warning to customers on Facebook. The Ocala Police Department, which is investigating the issue, also posted on Facebook and tweeted about the scam.

OPD Facebook post
OPD Facebook post

Hunnicutt said the scammer deceived customers by copying the automated on-hold message from the city of Ocala.

The phone number the scammer used is not a registered Ocala number, and Ocala police are working to shut down the phone number.

This is the second scam Ocala Electric Utility has faced in two months. On Dec. 22, Ocala Electric Utility warned customers about a similar scam where customers were being asked to pay over the phone.

“This particular scam was more alarming because they actually had our on-hold message, with our staff, that actually records the message,” said Mary Ann Davis, director of finance and customer service for the City of Ocala.

This is the first scam attempt where the scammer had gotten the City of Ocala’s on-hold message, Hunnicutt said. The on-hold message is the city’s automated message that gives callers different options, from clarifying a utility bill charge to checking the office’s hours of operation.

Police were never able to catch the person or persons behind the December scam and still don’t know who is behind this one. Davis says most scams are hardly ever resolved.

“Police have a very hard time finding these people,” Davis said. “They don’t even have to be in Florida, they can be overseas somewhere.”

Customers do have the option to pay bills with credit cards over the phone—but only through the city’s interactive voice response system, Davis said.

Davis said that phone payment scams happen often. In case of a scam, the City of Ocala issues an immediate release and sends out a “code red” to customers alerting them of a scam. Occasionally, they will also post to Facebook.

“I’m just grateful that none of our customers got taken by this one, as far as I know. As of today, I haven’t heard of anybody losing any money,” Davis said. “I think our efforts in reaching our customers to protect them worked out pretty well.”

About Baylor Cherry

Baylor Cherry is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at 727-916-0142.

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