WATCH ABOVE: Authorities warning business owners of phoney hydro billers demanding they pay up or lose power. Mark Carcasole reports.
TORONTO – Small business owners across Canada and the U.S. are being targeted by telephone scam artists claiming to be collecting on overdue hydro bills.
In Canada, authorities have reported incidents in Mississauga, Thunder Bay, Ottawa and parts of British Columbia among other jurisdictions.
Marie Coutu is one of over 100 businesses in Toronto that received one of the calls. She owns The Coffee Bar on Front Street West, near Spadina.
On Wednesday, around 11:30 a.m., one of her managers answered a call from a man calling himself “Ryan Gomez.” She says the man on the line told her she’d have to meet him somewhere in the Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue area and pay him $1,000 in hydro back charges or have the power shut down within 45 minutes.
“He said he (had) sent letters, we were totally ignoring him about the money, and that was it. She hung up, called me, and I said ‘it’s definitely a scam,'” said Coutu.
She didn’t believe the caller’s story from the start because the cafe has a pre-approved payment plan with the energy utility.
“I thought it was funny,” she said.
Toronto Hydro says it’s aware of the scam and is looking into it with police. Spokesperson Brian Buchan says their bill collectors would never use such tactics.
“We are not going to call you from a 1-800 number and we also have a very lengthy disconnection notice so we’re not going to give you a short amount of time,” said Buchan. “You’re going to get mailed letters, two … telephone calls to your number, and a hand-delivered notice before anything happens.”
Toronto Hydro says it has received about 160 alerts in recent months.
Although most of those targeted in the scam did not handover the money, others did fall victim.
“I’m so mad, I can’t sleep,” said Narong Hajibaka, who owns Khao Yum Thai restaurant in Manotick, near Ottawa.
The new business owner was called on Thanksgiving Day, and tricked into buying a prepaid Visa card. He lost $700.
Hajibaka says he was nervous and intimidated by the call, and wishes he would have given it a second thought.
“Since then, I call him every day. Maybe 10 to 15 times a day. I call, I want my money back,” said Hajibaka.
He says the man answered once to tell him he would get his money back eventually, but nothing since.
After Coffee Bar owner Marie Coutu reported the call they received to Global News, we tried calling the number back.
A man with an accent answered on Wednesday afternoon, but quickly became suspicious and hung up. There was no answer to repeated attempts to call.
By Thursday, the number had been disconnected. Police say that quick turnaround is common because it makes them harder to catch.
Anyone who receives a similar call is advised to immediately call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. Toronto Hydro customers should quote file number 844396.
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