A Connecticut business owner was duped by a utility scam that's sweeping the nation.
The owner of Muddy Water's Cafe on Bank Street in New London is out of $1,796, but Eyewitness News is the only one who called the scammers bluff.
Barry Neistat, who owns Muddy Waters Café, said this whole scam started early Thursday at 10 a.m. His place was really hopping at that time and Neistat said he was solo, busy, and he didn't know what to do.
The man on the phone claimed he was from Eversource, the electric utility company, and was told he owed $1,796 for lack of payment. They also told him a crew was nearby and would close the popular coffee shop down in 40 minutes.
"I panicked ran upstairs got my checkbook and my receipts from the bank,” Neistat said. “And explained they're all paid."
The man on the other end of the phone told Neistat he could settle with them after 3 p.m., and if it was their error he would get three months of service free.
"I did what they said,” Neistat said. “I wired them the money"
Neistat said he went Stop & Shop and put money on a card and then wired it to them. Police told Neistat if it's overseas, “it’s untraceable."
Neistat then called the number the scammer provided to complete the transaction. Eyewitness News called the same number on Friday.
After Eyewitness News talked with the alleged scammer, the station reached out to Eversource.
"Eversource will always send a shutoff notice weeks in advance of any sort of disconnection caused by lack of payment,” Eversource Spokesman Mitch Gross said.
In just the past 24 hours, several Eversource customers in East Lyme, Avon and Bristol got similar calls. The calls stated their electricity will be shut off if they didn't pay thousands.
“No town is immune. It is happening to both residential and business customers and has been on-going for at least the last three years. Unfortunately, customers continue to panic and pay,” Gross said.
Gross added that Eversource never demands immediate payment over the phone and they also never require the use pre-paid debit cards or to wire the money to an account number.
“These should be big, red flags to any customer who gets these types of calls demanding such,” Gross said.
If you get one of these calls, Gross said hang up and call police and the local utility company.
"They were very convincing,” Neistat said. “As I look back I see the red flags, I didn't have time to act, I just didn't want to be closed."
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