Ocala police warn of utility scheme

People are calling Ocala Utility customers, sounding very convincing, and demanding payment.  The scammers are calling customers with information about their accounts, officials say.  “We don’t really know how they’re getting that information,” said Mary Ann Davis, Director of Finance and Customer Service with the City of Ocala.

In the calls, the scammers claim accounts are past due and that electricity will be turned off in an hour if a payment is not made.  “They’re then telling them to go to the store and buy gift cards, debit cards. Call them back with all the information on the back of the card.”

Davis said a customer lost $1,500 last week. Wednesday, they found out another customer lost $1,000. 
The city believes the scammers may be trying to take advantage of the holiday season. Ocala police said they’re aware of the scam and are helping spread the word.

Cynthia Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Ocala Police Department said, “I want people to be informed so they can help make themselves [not become] a hard target and don’t fall prey to these scams.”

This morning, the city used a reverse 911 system to call about 60,000 customers warning them of this scam. “Please be suspicious of any caller who demands immediate payment for any reason,” that recorded phone call said.

Davis said watch out for these red flags:

  • The city will never call you and demand payment
  • You won’t be cut off in an hour. The process isn’t that fast
  • The City will never ask you to go buy a  gift card

“If the customer didn’t initiate the call, do not give them any information,” Davis said.

For more information about the scam, call the city of Ocala. To find out if there is a problem with your account, call 352-629-2489.  If you think you’re a victim, call police.