Fake calls are causing business owners to give up money

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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YORK, S.C. —

Torng Hear thought he was in a serious situation when a man called to tell him his power bill was overdue.

"He sounded so convincing. He was very professional," Hear said.

Hear runs a small grocery store on North Congress Street in York. The man who called his store on Monday claimed to be from Duke Energy. He told Hear that his power was about to be shut off because of an overdue bill.

"He said, 'Your power will be disconnected between 12 noon and 1 o'clock unless you take care of this past due bill,'" he said.

In order to send in the money quickly, Hear drove to the Rite Aid store in York while the man kept calling him on the phone, getting his account information, and the last four digits of his Social Security number. Hear wanted to get off the phone and call Duke Energy to check on his bill, but he couldn't.

"I couldn't make a call at any time. Every time I disconnected him he'd call me right back," he said.

The caller told him to buy a pre-paid Green Dot credit card, and he could send in the $797 he owed the power company.

As the pressure kept growing, and the caller became impatient, Hear finally realized something was wrong, and called York police instead.

It turns out his wasn't the only business targeted by the same scam.

The owner of a Chinese restaurant on East Liberty Street was also told her Duke power bill was late. Unfortunately, she went ahead and sent the caller $900 to cover the bill. She did not want to talk to Channel 9 about the incident Wednesday afternoon.

York Police Investigator Rich Caddell said by the time she called police and went to her bank, it was too late.

"She told her bank what was going on and as soon as they checked her account, the money was gone," Caddell said.

Channel 9 asked police why business owners would fall for such fraud when neither of them had heard from Duke about their bills, or received anyprevious late notices. Caddell said it was likely a fear that they could lose business if the power was shut down.

"Just the threat or the possibility that the power's going to be cut off in a matter of minutes, or hours, they rush to judge," he said.

Police have no suspects in the crime, but believe it likely originates overseas. Often, local police call in federal agents in similar cases.

When they reach beyond their jurisdiction Caddell said York Police do have some information, and they are following leads.

Hear told Channel 9 he's glad he stopped short of sending the money, but said he felt very small after it was all over.

"I felt so low. I'm just glad I'm in good health or I would've had a heart attack that day," he said. "It's terrible. I think they should find a better way to make a living."

York police do think there are more victims that may not have thought about contacting police. If so, they want to hear from them.